2022 UK Space Highlights: The Top 5

31st Dec 2022
2022 UK Space Highlights: The Top 5

2023 will be a year of satellite launches and huge space industry news in the UK. Much of the groundwork for that has been laid in 2022. A real buzz and excitement surround the industry as the first rockets to launch from UK soil are primed. So, a 2022 wrap up of the UK’s space industry highlights is in order!

Launch garnered most of the headlines throughout the year, especially in November and December, when Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit, respectively, gained the licences they needed. However, excitement on the ground included Goonhilly Earth Station being tasked with tracking, range and communications services for the Artemis I mission.

“We have made huge steps towards the first rocket launch from UK soil, which will soon take place at Spaceport Cornwall, and development is well underway for planned spaceports in Scotland.

While preparing for launch has been a key focus, 2022 has also been about growing the wider sector by investing in pioneering UK businesses and championing opportunities for the UK in space.

We’ve also been involved in ground-breaking international missions – including, most recently, the launch of NASA’s Surface Water Ocean Topography mission, which will collect data on our planet’s water patterns in unprecedented detail – and we secured our participation in further international missions at the European Space Agency (ESA) Council of Ministers in November.

During that meeting we also celebrated the announcement of three UK astronauts – Rosemary Coogan, John McFall and Meganne Christiane – as part of ESA’s new astronaut corps, bringing fresh inspiration to young people across the UK about the opportunities that space and STEM education can bring.”

Claire Barcham, Strategy Director at the UK Space Agency

The UK space industry is growing at speed, and the five stories below show what a vital year 2022 has been.

A Spaceport Licence For Cornwall

In an era of “firsts” in space travel, especially for the United Kingdom, this is one of the most significant.

The historic announcement of a spaceport licence being granted was made by the UK government in November. The spaceport licence was granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, paving the way for launches to take place from Cornwall.

Chief Executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Richard Moriarty, said:

“This is a historic moment as we licence the first-ever spaceport in the UK. 

“We’re proud to be playing our part in facilitating the UK’s space ambitions through assessing the safety, security, and other requirements of these activities.”

SaxaVord Gains Planning Approval

The UK will soon have multiple launch sites. You know the old saying, “you wait years for a rocket launch to come along, and suddenly two come along at once…”

The decision to approve the plans was made by The Shetland Isles Council (SIC) back in February, and the SaxaVord Spaceport is well underway. It is even on track for launches in 2023. 

It was initially stated by SaxaVord CEO Frank Strang that “we can look forward to a busy summer of construction work and ultimately to reaching our goal of the first UK vertical rocket launch later in the year,” but this has now been delayed and the first launches will take place in 2023.

Skyrora Opens The UK’s Largest Rocket Engine Site

Britain isn’t just launching rockets, it is building them, too.

Skyrora announced that it was opening the country’s largest rocket engine manufacturing facility. In July it was announced that the new facility would be built in Cumbernauld with a focus on launch development practices.

Skyrora’s impact on jobs in North Lanarkshire and the rest of Scotland is helping with the economic boost the space industry is set to provide.

“At Skyrora in 2022, we achieved a series of significant milestones on our path towards being the first British company to conduct a vertical orbital rocket launch from UK soil. We spent the year developing our space sector expertise and the necessary infrastructure that is paramount to establishing the sovereign launch capabilities that will position the UK at the forefront of the global space economy.

Earlier in the year, Skyrora opened new rocket engine testing and manufacturing facilities in Scotland – both of which are the largest in the UK. These new sites in Midlothian and Cumbernauld respectively have created numerous technical jobs in the surrounding areas, as well as enabling us to take direct charge of the rocket development cycle right here in Scotland. 

We also completed a number of critical engine and rocket tests during 2022, with the second-stage static fire test of our flagship orbital rocket (Skyrora XL) being a landmark achievement for the company.”

Skyrora founder and CEO Volodymyr Levykin told looking back at 2022

Virgin Orbit to Launch in Cornwall

This was initially due to take place within 2022, but the launch itself has now been delayed. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the agreement for a Virgin Orbit launch to take place in Cornwall is massive news for the industry. 

Many satellites will launch onboard the next Virgin Orbit mission, with customers all over the world including the Sultanate of Oman and US National Reconnaissance Office. UK clients include the MOD, Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, and Space Forge. 

The launch still doesn’t have a confirmed date, but it will be in 2023.

As Spaceport Cornwall CEO Melissa Thorpe wrote in her blog:

We are so close to launch. Looking back is such an important tool in reminding yourself of how much has been achieved, but looking forward, with confidence is what I am really here for!

Goonhilly Earth Station and the Artemis I mission

The 32-meter dish at Goonhilly Earth Station (GEC) got a workout this autumn when NASA launched the Artemis I mission in November. GEC provided a variety of services from ranging, tracking of and communications with Artemis and the Orion capsule, as well as services for the commercial satellites going into lunar orbit.

GEC’s workload is bound to increase in 2023. Overall, the UK space industry should see more demand come from the renewed interest in lunar operations. CTO Matthew Cosby told OT in October:

In the longer run, the Artemis-1 mission points to the fact that there’s a diverse section of the globe going to the Moon. There’s Capstone on its way now and Intuitive Machines, and iSpace coming up, for example. And as a result, the communications requirements will only increase. During the Apollo missions, they were happy to have any video at all, but now, people expect 4K video, for example.

And with that there is a renewed interest in the Moon. If right now, we’re hoping to have 2-3 missions to the Moon, in 10 years, there could be hundreds. The UK space industry will have a part of that.

GEC CTO Matthew Cosby
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