Launch Pad Fredo under construction at SaxaVord Spaceport, UK. Credits: SaxaVord via twitter

SaxaVord Spaceport Granted First Vertical Launch License in Western Europe

The SaxaVord Scottish space launch site has been award of a licence by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. An important milestone toward the first orbital launch

On December 17, the UK SaxaVord spaceport received an official license from the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which authorizes vertical space launches. Now the facility, located in Scotland, has become the first operational vertical launch site in Western Europe, paving the way for a new era in the sector of European small launchers.


The beginning of a new era

The license was initially required by the Scottish company in 2022. The space regulator conducted a thorough evaluation to ensure that SaxaVord meets the necessary safety, security, and environmental criteria. The assessment also encompassed an examination of the infrastructure, equipment, and services at SaxaVord to ascertain its suitability for accommodating vertical space launches.

“The award of our spaceport license is both historic for Shetland, Scotland and the UK and places us firmly at the leading edge of the European and global space economy.”

— Frank Strang, CEO at SaxaVord Spaceport
SaxaVord Spaceport's first launch pad. Credits: SaxaVord
SaxaVord Spaceport’s first launch pad. Credits: SaxaVord

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland.[…] We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.”

— Tim Johnson, Director of Space Regulation at CAA

The spaceport will ensure up to 30 launches per year to a variety of light-lift rockets with payloads of up to 1.5 tonnes into Sun-Synchronous, Polar and High Inclination orbits as well as suborbital flights. The private facility has already signed multiple accords with different launch providers including Rocket Factory Augsburg, ABL, HyImpulse, Skyrora, Latitude and Astra.

SaxaVord launch site under construction. Credits: SaxaVord
The SaxaVord launch site under construction. Credits: SaxaVord

Back in November, Hympulse announced that the maiden launch of its SR75 launch vehicle is scheduled to take place in March 2024, from the Southern Launch Koonibba test Range and no longer from Scotland. So, at the moment, the German RFA could be the first to benefit from the new launch site with the maiden flight of its RFA ONE rocket next year.


A growing European sector

The efforts, including economic ones, put into this infrastructure highlight the importance that the British government and other European countries place on the development of a European micro launchers sector.

The previous week the company Orbex was awarded €3.8 million in funding from the UK Space Agency as part of the ESA’s Boost! program. The UK-based company will use the funds to start building its launch complex at Sutherland Spaceport. Meanwhile the German HyImpulse received €3.9 million from the UK Space Agency and €2.5 million from the German Space Agency (DLR).

HyImpulse's SL1 rocket, Credits: HyImpulse
HyImpulse’s SL1 rocket. Credits: HyImpulse

On December 11, during an event related to the France2030 economic initiative, French President Emmanuel Macron strongly emphasized the importance of the micro launchers in the future of the French space sector. Through the France2030 program, the French government has already allocated several billion euros to this sector. For example, the startup HyPrSpace received a fund of €35 million for the development of the PAD1 launch system, developed in collaboration with Telespazio France and CT Engineering Group.


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Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Francesco Sebastiano Moro

Aerospace engineering student at University of Padua, passionate of space and aerospace sector.

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