CAA grants SaxaVord a spaceport licence

Posted on 18 December, 2023 by Advance 

The UK officially has a brand-new spaceport following SaxaVord - on the North Coast of the Shetland Islands - receiving a licence from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).


Lamba Ness.
Courtesy CAA

The licence marks several firsts for the UK’s growing space sector including being the first-ever vertical spaceport on UK soil. The spaceport is also the first fully licensed vertical spaceport in Western Europe.

SaxaVord has been assessed by the space regulator to verify that appropriate safety, security, and environmental criteria are met to operate a spaceport, and that it has the suitable infrastructure, equipment, and services to accommodate vertical space launches.

The spaceport licence puts Scotland at the forefront of the European launch market, with Scottish satellites already in space, and home-grown rocket companies breaking new ground. There are a number of launch operators from around the world currently developing rockets to launch from SaxaVord who are currently at various stages of the assessment process with the Civil Aviation Authority.

The not-too-distant future could see Scottish built rockets launching Scottish satellites from a Scottish spaceport. The licence permits SaxaVord to host up to 30 launches a year, allowing the spaceport to grow as the UK space sector continues to expand.

Tim Johnson, Director of Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Granting SaxaVord their licence is an era defining moment for the UK space sector.

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland.

“We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.”

Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said: “The award of our spaceport licence is both historic for Shetland, Scotland and the UK and places us firmly at the leading edge of the European and global space economy.

“As importantly for me it is also a fantastic achievement by our Operations and Licencing Team led by Scott Hammond who have been working tirelessly alongside the UK Civil Aviation Authority for almost three years to secure this award.

“Our team is very proud that the Government has entrusted us with operating a complex, multi-disciplinary and multi-launch spaceport and we all take this responsibility very seriously. There is much to do still but this is a fantastic way to end the year and head into Christmas.”

SaxaVord will be subject to an ongoing monitoring programme by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure safety is maintained and the terms of its licence are not breached.   

This latest licence is the 352nd space activity approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since becoming the UK’s space regulator in July 2021. The regulator now monitors more than 750 different satellites, has licensed two spaceports, a launch from Cornwall, and the OneWeb constellation which is currently the second biggest satellite constellation in orbit.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “The United Kingdom’s space industry is growing, with SaxaVord set for lift off to become this country’s first vertical spaceport.

“Today’s historic announcement will boost Shetland’s economy and put the United Kingdom at the forefront of spaceflight innovation.”

This activity is supporting an ever-growing space industry estimated to be worth £17.5 billion and support 48,800 jobs, with over 2200 space companies based in the UK. The UK space sector is a rapidly expanding and vital part of the UK economy.

The licence also follows last week’s announcement of £3.4 million UK Space Agency funding for HyImpulse UK, a Shetland based launch company to undertake their Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme ahead of the proposed launch of their launch vehicle, named SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland.

Matt Archer, Director of Launch, UK Space Agency said: “The granting of SaxaVord’s spaceport licence by the UK Civil Aviation Authority is a hugely exciting milestone as we look forward to the first vertical launches from UK soil in the coming year.

“Getting to this stage is testament to the hard work by SaxaVord Spaceport and partners across government which moves us towards realising our ambitions for the UK to be the leading provider of small satellite launch in Europe by 2030.

“Establishing orbital launch capabilities in the UK is already bringing new jobs and investment opportunities to local communities as well as inspiring the next generation to join our growing space sector.”