Rocket Lab in £23m flip flop controversy regarding UK launch

3rd Jul 2019

Information has been brought to our attention that shows one of the companys that were potentially being lined up to launch the UK’s first rockets into space, has absolutely no intention of launching rockets from UK soil.

The UK Space Agency handed out grants to a number of firms when announcing plans to build a launch pad in Scotland. One of the company’s in receipt of £23m was Lockheed Martin, who are one of the key investors in Rocket Lab. Lockheed’s likely choice of rocket for the inaugural launches would be the Rocket Lab Electron according to their previous statements.

However, in a 2017 interview, the company CEO Peter Beck stated:
“The only criticism I have is that the UK Government needs to stop trying to build a launch site; it doesn’t have the geography for it. The country needs to stop talking about a launch facility in Scotland and focus on what it’s good at: building satellites.”

The full interview can be found in the Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/connect/small-business/rocket-lab-founder-i-want-to-make-space-accessible/

Since that interview, Lockheed Martin have received £23m to provide a launch vehicle stating that it is likely to be the Rocket Lab Electron. However, this 2 year old interview sets firmly in place the company’s stance regarding a UK launch, leaving big questions to be answered. Mostly, that the UK could be seen to be handing funding to a firm that doesn’t have access to the required technology (sound familiar?)

Once the £23m was announced for Lockheed Martin, the Rocket Labs CEO seemed to have a quick change of position, despite previously saying that Scotland did not have the correct geography for launching satellites, he said in a statement:

““Electron is well-positioned to be the first orbital rocket launched from U.K. soil,” said Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, in the statement. “We’re excited to review the opportunity to develop a launch service to support the U.K.’s space industry’s growth.””

All of this is rather awkward for both Lockheed Martin and Rocket Lab and will definitely have an impact on their credibility and create more questions over the future of UK’s space ambitions, or more importantly, the lack of transparency and increased doubts over the project.

The Rocket Lab Electron

One of the other companies in the mix, is Danish firm Orbex, who have since discussed operating their first launches from the Azores Islands, following receipt of £2.5m from the UK Space Agency to prepare for a UK inaugural launch. Further controversy surrounds the company as top Scottish Academics have suggested that their Sutherland launch site, which won the launch pad bid amongst some others, was actually not the best option for a number of reasons.

This now places Orbex in an embarrassing position as they are tied to the Sutherland site and have publicly stated that they would never launch from the Shetland launch pad, which experts have quoted as being a better option.

We await news of Lockheed’s firm commitment with interest.

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