A NEW hotel and visitor centre are planned for the island of Unst in Shetland as part of the work to create a spaceport at the northern-most tip of the UK.

The team behind SaxaVord spaceport hope to build new accommodation near the site, appealing to those keen to see rare birds and wildlife as well as blast-offs.

The first orbital rocket launches are expected to draw crowds of at least several hundred and a viewing area will be set up across a bay, opposite the spaceport’s launch pads.

Debbie Strang, director of facilities at SaxaVord, said they had carried out a study into how many people would come to Unst for a launch – noting that Cornwall spaceport’s attempted space launch earlier this year drew about 2,000 visitors.

Strang told journalists: “The research said most people wanted to see the base of the rocket, that was something that came back.

“It’s absolutely going to be an added draw for people who have made the decision to come to Shetland, they will come for longer and they’ll try and see a launch.

“If they’re not here for a launch, they will want to come to the site – and they’ll want to understand what space is all about, not just Saxa’s role in that.

“They’ll want some sort of visitor centre and education to understand more about space. So that will be built into the hotel and the plans for that.”

As well as a hotel of around 250 beds, they also hope to reuse a nearby airstrip as a private airstrip. The island is currently accessed by ferry from other parts of Shetland.

The spaceport team stressed the need to manage visitors’ expectations around any rocket launches, which can often be delayed or called off.

Commercial rockets from start-up companies also have a high failure rate, as many are new designs which have not flown before.

A planning application has been drawn up and is being submitted to Shetland Islands Council.

The site is near Hermaness nature reserve, which boasts spectacular clifftop views and has a rich variety of wild birds.

Strang said this is currently the “number one” attraction on Unst.

The privately-funded spaceport is still under construction and hopes to host a sub-orbital rocket launch in October.

The first launch into space is expected in April next year from a German company called Rocket Factory Augsburg.