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SaxaVord partners with rocket maker

January 12, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Despite Virgin Orbit’s setback in Cornwall, Scotland’s SaxaVord Spaceport is moving rapidly ahead with its own plans. SaxaVord is materially different to Cornwall’s Newquay spaceport in that it is planning to loft conventional rockets vertically and directly into orbit from its launch pad.

SaxaVord has announced a partnership with Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA). This partnership will provide RFA with exclusive access to Launch Pad Fredo at SaxaVord, the northernmost point of the UK. The first rocket launch is expected later this year.

Launchpad Fredo, built by SaxaVord Spaceport, is the UK’s first concrete launch pad and will provide water and nitrogen as well as functional buildings including the control room as part of the launch operation partnership with RFA.

The commercial Spaceport in Shetland is ideally located for RFA to launch payloads at high cadence into polar, sun-synchronous orbits. Existing logistics and infrastructure, launch readiness, as well as rapid implementation and matching mentality were key factors why RFA chose to partner with SaxaVord, says the duo. With the multi-year partnership, which includes investments in the double-digit million pound range, RFA is securing its first flight launch site in order to be able to provide its services individually  to customer requirements.

Tests will take place at SaxaVord this summer with the first launch being of a rocket which is targeted to fly to 500kms and into a sun-synchronous orbit.

“We are super excited to launch our first flight from SaxaVord. This partnership of privately financed companies enables the spirit and speed that we need, to be on top of the commercial small launch competition,” said Jörn Spurmann, CCO at RFA. “The SaxaVord team was incredibly determined to build our launch pad and get the operations up and running. We are proud to be part of this historic event for the UK having built the first launch pad in mainland Europe. We firmly believe in the UK’s strategic space vision and are absolutely convinced that the double-digit million investment in the site is well placed on our part.”

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO, Frank Strang, added: “We’re delighted to kick off the New Year by announcing our partnership with RFA. We will support RFA across the entire lifecycle of a launch, from facilitating testing, inspections, fueling and safety, to supplying MET weather data and access to our ground station network for data capture and distribution. The entire team cannot wait to welcome RFA and work closely as we edge closer to the UK’s first vertical space launch in Unst.”

The partnership will allow RFA to launch satellites, the majority of which are active in two major areas: Earth observation and communications. The data collected by these satellites can benefit any industry. Examples of applications include: Optimisation of logistics routes, early detection of forest fires, Internet of Things, analysis of ground conditions, maintenance of infrastructure, collection of health data, self-driving cars, climate and environmental protection. In this way, RFA says it acts as an enabler to better connect, understand, and protect the Earth.

RFA itself was established in 2018 as a spin-off from OHB and converted into a public company in 2019.

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