UK's first vertical rocket launch could take place this summer

Sky news - Tech

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The UK's inaugural vertical rocket launch could happen as soon as this summer, with another attempt to reach orbit for the first time not far behind.

Scott Hammond, deputy chief executive of SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland, told Sky News they hope the site will host multiple launches in the months ahead.

It comes after an orbital launch attempt from Newquay this month ended in failure.

Spaceport Cornwall's highly anticipated space mission on 9 January, which involved a LauncherOne rocket being taken skyward under the wing of a former Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, fell short in its quest to deploy satellites into orbit.

Bosses at SaxaVord are hoping their site can finish the job - but unlike Newquay, Unst is built to host NASA-style vertical launches that offer it the chance to make history twice.

"To watch a rocket launch is going to be a completely different experience," Mr Hammond said.

"It's quite awe-inspiring when you see these happen.

"People will be really stunned by it, and to think it's happening from the UK will hopefully be really uplifting."

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'LauncherOne has suffered an anomaly'

What launches are planned?

The site's inaugural launch could happen in August.

If successful, it would involve a German HyImpulse Technologies suborbital rocket - which does not reach space - perform the first vertical blast-off ever from UK soil.

Following that, an orbital rocket launch by another German firm, Rocket Factory Augsburg, will aim to go one better than the Cornwall mission by reaching space and deploying satellites.

It will begin testing in the summer ahead of a launch in the autumn, potentially as soon as October.

Read more:
Six failed launches that show space is hard
Where does the UK space industry go from here?

An American company, ABL Space Systems, will also launch a mission this year called Pathfinder from the SaxaVord site, supported by funding from the UK Space Agency.

"Our ethos is to operate a spaceport much like an airport," Mr Hammond said.

While Cornwall's mission did not go to plan, it will always be in the history books for having received the UK's first spaceport licence.

SaxaVord hopes the Civil Aviation Authority will approve its application by the summer.

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Why are we still racing to space?

'The space industry is exploding'

SaxaVord could host 30 launches a year from its three launchpads once online, according to Mr Hammond.

Its location on Unst, the UK's northernmost inhabited island, is seen as ideal because of its clear airspace.

Future launches are also all but assured from Cornwall, and another spaceport is on the way in Sutherland, built and managed by Scottish rocket maker Orbex, which is also hoping to host launches in 2023.

Cornwall, Sutherland and SaxaVord are three of seven spaceports coming online across the UK - with the aim of together launching 100,000 satellites by 2030.

Only California builds more satellites than the UK, which wants to become a major European launch hub.

"The industry is exploding," Mr Hammond said.

"We are a data hungry society and satellites give you data, or they enable you to get data.

"Do you see us having less computers, less internet, less mobile phones? I suspect not - and satellites are a fundamental part of what you could call this third industrial revolution."

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