Scotland’s first rocket launch will probably ‘blow up’ – but someone might still want a ride

By Gareth Corfield,
Published by The Telegraph, 1 August 2023

Just months after Virgin Orbit’s collapse, a spaceport in Shetland is preparing for lift off

Scotland’s first rocket launch will probably “blow up” but there might be a customer “prepared to take the risk”, the boss of Shetland’s spaceport has said.

Saxa Vord is awaiting a licence for the UK’s first vertical launch and hopes to host its first test launch on the island later this year.

“I fully expect the rocket to blow up,” chief executive Frank Strang said when asked how Shetland’s first launch will compare to Virgin Orbit’s failed attempt from Cornwall.

He added: “You never know, there might be a customer out there that’s prepared to take the risk.”

Mr Strang compared the company to NASA’s Cape Canaveral, but explained that Saxa Vord is prepared for early problems.

He said: “If you look at SpaceX’s first three launches, they were all what people would deem as failures – but they weren’t.”

The Government says the UK space sector is worth £14.8bn a year, with the introduction of domestic space launches set to boost that figure.

Earlier this year the industry hit a stumbling block, however, after Virgin Orbit’s attempt to launch a space rocket from a modified Boeing 747 in January ended in explosive failure.

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne takes off from a 747 aircraft. (Virgin Orbit)
Virgin Orbit, which operated from Cornwall’s Newquay Airport, ended in explosive failure Credit: Ministry of Defence/PA Media

Virgin Orbit, which operated from Cornwall’s Newquay Airport, collapsed in May after Virgin supremo Sir Richard Branson pulled his support. Its remaining assets were sold for just £29m.

Industry sources have said the failure of Virgin Orbit caused a huge bottleneck in global space launch capacity as companies raced to buy up available launch slots from rivals such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The Telegraph understands that there are no new launch slots available anywhere in the world until the last few months of next year.

Saxa Vord’s first commercial launch will see a rocket from German company Rocket Factory Augsburg blasting into space, Mr Strang said on Tuesday morning.

Space regulators from the Civil Aviation Authority are set to issue a spaceport licence “in the next four to six weeks”, he predicted.

When asked how Shetlanders had reacted to the building of a spaceport on the quiet Scottish islands, Mr Strang joked: “We always said we’re not building Cape Canaveral. But actually we are.

“And you need to remember that the customer base we’ve got, they’re all international and they’re coming to us”.

Saxa Vord says it will be carrying out 30 launches a year by 2028.

See: Original Article