Space industry arrives in Shetland with first satellite ground station antenna

The first antenna in SaxaVord Spaceport’s ground station for supporting satellites has been installed, marking a “major milestone” for the company and the Shetland community.

Located on a temporary site at the west end of Baltasound Airport in Unst, the 3.7m parabolic dish, which is housed inside a protective 4.8m diameter radome, is a “proof of concept” project in conjunction with ground station specialists Leafspace.

The installation was ably supported by four local companies – Pure Energy, Sandisons, RS Henderson and Streamline.

SaxaVord Spaceport Data and Ground Station Manager Jacques Meheut said: “This is a major milestone, the first active space industry activity in Shetland.

“Manufactured by Orbit CS in this country, the antenna has been designed to support a large number of different satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

“Due to its size, it can support both small and medium satellites, which is very useful for the anticipated industry growth in the delivery of these types of satellites.

“The antenna is now working, and currently undergoing a complex calibration and commissioning phase that will take a number of days. Thereafter, we hope to start downloading and uploading to client satellites. This is only a temporary site at this stage.

“Our partner network Leafspace had a number of satellite operators sending equipment into space on board SpaceX’s Transporter 2 mission last week, and there are five satellites that will use the Shetland-based antenna for continued mission support.”

SaxaVord Spaceport has entered into a lease arrangement with Shetland Islands Council for the use of Baltasound Airport, with the intention of bringing the designated airfield back to life to support both the spaceport and the local economy.

The plans include the refurbishment or demolition and rebuild of the existing hangar and to recreate the small heliport that operated up to 1996, this time supporting aerospace and space rather than the oil industry.

SaxaVord is also working with the SIC towards the construction of a small tech hub housing industrial units to support the new industry, as featured in the Islands Deal announced previously.

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO Frank Strang said: “I am delighted with the incredible support we have had locally from contractors and it has proven the point that we have been making constantly, that many of the skills that are needed to support the space industry already exist here in Unst and Shetland. The SaxaVord Spaceport belongs to them as much as it does shareholders.

“The beauty of the antenna is that it has the capacity to support aerospace and aviation activity at the airport as well.”

The company is currently awaiting a determination on its planning application for the launch site at Lamba Ness by Shetland Islands Council.

The site has been chosen for the launch of the UK’s first small rocket / small satellite launch in 2020. This is the UK Pathfinder mission by Lockheed Martin and ABL Systems in 2020.