UK Government in Panic Following Lockheed Martin’s Departure From Sutherland Spaceport

4th Nov 2020
UK Government in Panic Following Lockheed Martin’s Departure From Sutherland Spaceport

The events of the past couple of weeks has given us now a clearer understanding of the UK’s space industry and how it will look moving forward.

Three particular events and their timing look very much like a planned strategy from the UK government. However, a fourth event is possibly even more telling about how this particular strategy is playing out.

  1. Announcement of collaboration between all UK spaceports under the umbrella of the UK Spaceports Alliance
  2. Publication of the Technology Safeguards Agreement allowing US rockets to launch from UK soil
  3. Announcement by UK government that it agreed to Lockheed Martin moving its launch plans from Sutherland to Shetland Space Centre

So, first came the announcement that all the UK spaceports were now all friends and weren’t competing against each other at all. This was a really important piece of news to prepare the groundwork for what was about to follow. Although this didn’t actually come from the spaceports themselves, but from the Scottish Space Leadership Council and UK Space Agency.

Secondly, the Technology Safeguards Agreement secured the legal framework which would allow US-built rockets to be imported to the UK for launch, which would also place some restrictions on who could launch from UK – with considerable detrimental implications for “foreign companies” in the supply chain.

Those first two announcements set the stage for the third piece of news, which was that Lockheed Martin would move its launch plans from Sutherland to Shetland Space Centre. With the TSA in place, this would allow US-built rockets to be brought to UK by Lockheed Martin and with the Sutherland spaceport now becoming the Orbex launch pad, with no spare capacity, they had no option other than to seek out launch facilities elsewhere.

The UK Spaceport Alliance gave the impression that this was done with the agreement of all parties. Whether that was the case or not…. the impression is there.

Then a fourth piece of news gave us a rather interesting insight into the relationship between the Scottish Spaceports in particular…

The opening of an office in Munich by the Shetland Space Centre may appear to be a perfectly logical step by a company looking to secure business from mainland Europe. They could have setup office in any of the European countries or cities within any of those countries. However, it is worth noting that Munich is home to Orbex, who are essentially now the sole launch providers at the Sutherland Spaceport. Now, whilst it may mean nothing, it remains a fact that the Shetland Space Centre is touting for business on Orbex’ doorstep.

When we look at all of those fairly recent events together, then it certainly does look like there is a plan in place. It also looks like Lockheed Martin may have more control over events than the government themselves. In fact things have been put in place to primarily support the likes of Lockheed Martin. And the most interesting factor is that securing Lockheed Martin as a launch partner has emboldened the management team at Shetland Space Centre.

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