Spaceport hosts major visit by Lockheed Martin and ABL Space Systems

SaxaVord UK Spaceport this week welcomed senior figures from Lockheed Martin and its rocket technology partner ABL Space Systems to Unst, as they gear up to deliver the UK Pathfinder programme, Europe’s first vertical satellite launch, next year.

During the visit representatives from ABL Space have been conducting site surveys ahead of plans to use their new RS1 rocket and flexible, integrated GS0 launch system, which allows for a rapid and cost-effective deployment with outstanding launch performance. 

Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said: “We’re delighted to welcome ABL to Unst for the first time and to welcome back Lockheed Martin as we prepare for the UK Pathfinder launch next year.  

“The project has real momentum now and these engagements are a vital part of our preparation for delivering the UK’s first vertical satellite launch.”

Nik Smith, UK and Europe regional director for Lockheed Martin, said: “Being able to bring our launch partners, ABL Space, together with the SaxaVord Spaceport team, alongside our colleagues at the UK Space Agency, demonstrates that we continue to make exciting progress towards achieving the first vertical satellite launch in northern Europe in 2022.

“Not only will this launch capability stimulate prosperity in the region and across the UK, but it also marks an important step in achieving the ambitions of the new National Space Strategy.“

Dan Piemont, president and co-founder of ABL Space, said: “ABL is unique in our ability to deliver new launch capabilities rapidly and on-demand. After delivering RS1 and GS0 to Unst next year, we’ll be able to launch up to a tonne of satellites at a time from UK soil, accommodating everything from scientific cubesats to larger commercial satellites. We’re grateful for the opportunity to play this enabling role in the UK space industry, and hope to carry forward the momentum from this Pathfinder launch into the years ahead.”

He said there was a “certain je ne sais quoi” about the Unst site, and went on to describe it as an ideal place to launch rockets from.

Recently the UK government announced its National Space Strategy which sets out the its long-term vision to make the UK one of the most attractive and innovative space economies in the world.

Kelmend Kavaja, Spaceflight Grants Manager at the UK Space Agency, said: “We are working closely with national and international partners to bring the first satellite launches to the UK in 2022, deliver on the National Space Strategy and create hundreds of new jobs. It’s great to see the SaxaVord Spaceport, Lockheed Martin and ABL Space advancing their plans to deliver sustainable, commercial spaceflight operations from the Shetland Islands.”

The SaxaVord launch facility will eventually create circa 140 jobs in Unst and inject at least £4.9m per annum into the island’s economy. It will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, adding a further £2.9m in gross value to the economy.

Lockheed Martin has operated in the UK for nearly 80 years. From postal sorting technology to helping build the UK’s first commercial spaceport, its innovations and partnerships help solve some of the UK’s most complex challenges, contributing to national defence, security and prosperity.