Astra to launch from U.K. spaceport

By Jeff Foust,
Published by SpaceNews, 10 May 2022

WASHINGTON — Astra announced May 10 that it plans to carry out launches from a spaceport in the Shetland Islands starting in 2023 as part of international expansion plans.

Astra said it is partnering with SaxaVord Spaceport to provide launch services from that facility, located on the island of Unst, the northernmost of the Shetland Islands. Those launches would begin in 2023 pending final agreements and regulatory approvals.

Astra, which has carried out launches so far from Kodiak, Alaska, and Cape Canaveral, Florida, has emphasized both the mobility of its launch system and its desire to expand to locations outside the United States. SaxaVord would be the first spaceport outside the United States that Astra launches from.

“Our entire launch system is mobile and can be easily and discretely transported anywhere in the world in a standard ISO shipping container by truck, ship, rail or cargo aircraft,” Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, said in a May 5 earnings call, adding that the company requires six people to set up the launch system. “Our mobile launch system also enables our allies, governments that do not have access to space, to rapidly establish their own sovereign space launch capabilities by partnering with Astra.”

“The additional inclinations, flexibility and launch capacity that this partnership enables will allow us to meet the needs of Astra’s customers and align directly with SaxaVord U.K. Spaceport’s economic investment and environmental goals,” said Matt Gansler, vice president of business operations at Astra, in a statement about the agreement.

Astra is not the first U.S. company to announce plans to launch from SaxaVord. Lockheed Martin, which won an award from the British government in 2018 to perform a launch from the U.K., announced in 2021 that it would carry out that launch using an RS1 rocket from ABL Space Systems, a small launch vehicle developer Lockheed has both invested in and purchased launches from. That “U.K. Pathfinder” launch is scheduled for later this year, although ABL has yet to conduct a first launch of its RS1 vehicle.

“This agreement between SaxaVord Spaceport and Astra is great news for Shetland and represents another step towards our shared ambition of bringing vertical launch satellite capability to Scotland,” said Ivan McKee, Scottish minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise, in a statement. Scotland is also home to a launch site under development near the town of Sutherland that will host launches by Orbex.

In addition to SaxaVord and Sutherland, England’s Spaceport Cornwall, also known as Cornwall Airport Newquay, plans to host launches by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne air launch system. The first LauncherOne system from that spaceport is scheduled for later this summer, pending regulatory approvals.

“This new partnership between Astra and SaxaVord U.K. Spaceport is another great example of the strong interest from the international space community in operating from U.K. spaceports,” said Matt Archer, director of commercial space at the U.K. Space Agency, in a statement.

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