NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Unst in Shetland to aim for space programme

UKube-1 Image copyright UK Space Agency
Image caption A Glasgow company was commissioned to build Ukube-1 - Scotland's first satellite

Shetland is preparing a bid to become a launch base for satellites.

Detailed proposals have been drawn up and are likely to be submitted to the UK Space Agency next year.

The plans involve launching payloads into space from Unst, Scotland's most northerly island.

Scotland already has a successful space industry building satellites and the components for them. It has been estimated to be worth more than £130m and to employ 7,000 people.

Much of the industry is based in Glasgow.

Image caption An artist's impression of the Machrihanish spaceport in Argyll, which is also hoping to become a space flight centre

Legislation on space flight, currently going through Westminster, could allow vertical launches of satellites from the UK for the first time.

Other proposals for Scottish space flight centres include Sutherland, the Western Isles, Prestwick and Machrihanish.

Malcolm Macdonald, director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications at Strathclyde University, said: "You are looking to launch away from people, so you can't have any local population in the area, any villages, or towns or that sort of thing.

"And you then can't overfly people as well and you can't overfly oil rigs and these types of things as well.

"You are really looking for where there is very little in the air and very little on the sea, and that's why the north of Scotland is really attractive for this."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kazakhstan has become an established centre for commercial space launches

The Unst-based Shetland Space Centre Ltd said there was already commercial and military interest in a launch site being built on the island.

The centre's director, Frank Strang, said: "From the report and our discussions with experts in the field, it is clear that the former Ministry of Defence aerial farm north of Saxa Vord hill, or the old MoD site at Lamba Ness, would be ideal for satellite launches.

"That, and the fact that we have had an amazing amount of interest from commercial firms and the military, suggests that there is tremendous potential for Unst and Shetland to become part of a fast-growing, £13.7bn sector of the UK economy that supports more than 6,000 jobs in Scotland alone."

The first satellite designed and built in Scotland was launched in July 2014 via a rocket in Kazakhstan, piggy-backing along with other larger payloads.

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