A SHETLAND space port is set for takeoff this year, the UK Space Agency has confirmed.

It will make the site the first in Europe to launch small satellites into orbit and is expected to propel Scotland’s burgeoning space sector into the stratosphere.

The number of space businesses in Scotland has already increased by more than 65% since 2016, with a sustained annual growth rate of 12%. More than twice as many people are employed in the industry in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.

A new Scottish Space Strategy aims to create 20,000 jobs in the sector by securing a £4 billion share of the global space market by 2030.

As well as hosting the largest launch capability in Europe, the aim is also to develop a world-leading environmental strategy for the industry by reducing emissions and supporting the use of satellite data for environmental monitoring.

Scotland is already a global hub for satellite manufacturing but companies then have to ship them overseas to countries like the US, India or Kazakhstan to be launched. Having the capability to launch from Scotland will make it easier – and cheaper – for Scottish companies to move from building to launching.

A spokesperson for the UK Space Agency told the Sunday National: “Put simply, next year will be a particularly exciting year for the UK and Scottish space sectors. Scotland is at the heart of UK plans to launch small satellites for the first time, with SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland expected to host the UK’s first rocket launch in 2022.”

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The UK’s National Space Strategy includes a commitment for the first satellite launches to take place from UK soil in 2022.

This is supported by the Scottish Space Strategy, which is a collaboration between the Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies, industry group Space Scotland and the Scottish Space Academic Forum.

Scottish Government business minister Ivan McKee described the potential for the sector in Scotland as “enormous”.

He said: “Our aims are clear – we want to achieve a £4bn share of the global space market, deliver a dedicated launch capability and create 20,000 jobs in the sector by 2030.”

Scottish Space Academic Forum chair Professor Iain Woodhouse added: “It will be the new talent and scientific innovation coming out of Scottish higher education institutions that forms the bedrock of the Scottish space sector and we are ready to step up and fulfil that role to ensure the strategy is a success.”

The National:

The SaxaVord site on Unst will be used by the likes of Lockheed Martin

According to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the SaxaVord Spaceport on Unst will create 140 jobs locally, with an additional 70 jobs across Shetland, injecting more than £7 million into the economy.

The company has been awarded £23.5m in government funding to develop the space port, while sums of £2.5m and £5.5m have gone to Highlands and Islands Enterprise and rocket company Orbex respectively to launch from a site in Sutherland.

Forres-based Orbex is developing a test site at Kinloss to test its rocket.

The UK Space Agency spokesperson said: “Shetland is likely to host the UK’s first vertical satellite launch this year, followed by Sutherland at a later date.”

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THERE are seven potential rocket-launching sites in total across the UK. Five are in Scotland – Unst, the A’ Mhòine peninsula, Glasgow Prestwick, Machrihanish Airbase and North Uist in the Western Isles. They are all at different stages of development but Shetland and Sutherland are the furthest ahead.

Unst is Scotland’s most northerly inhabited island and is considered an ideal location because of its clear airspace.

Lockheed Martin is due to launch first from the Unst site but Edinburgh-based Skyrora is expected to start launching its rockets soon after as the space port will be able to accommodate a number of different operators.

Skyrora aims to launch 16 rockets a year from the site by 2030 and plans to fuel its Skyrora XL rocket with Ecosene, its own more sustainable alternative to conventional rocket fuel.

Made from waste plastic such as polystyrene, the company claims Ecosene could prevent more than 3000 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic going to landfill by 2030, just through use on its own flights.

Skyrora’s aim is to create more than 170 jobs by 2030. In just the past few months, the team has expanded by 30%.