JAXA launch from SaxaVord a Reality: Freeman

29th May 2023
JAXA launch from SaxaVord a Reality: Freeman

The UK is pushing to become a world-leader in space exploration with two spaceports drawing attention from international space companies. During a parliamentary committee on 17th May, Science, Innovation, and Technology Minister George Freeman spoke about the UK’s space launch prospects. Mr Freeman detailed that he welcomed offers from several foreign enterprises looking to use British spaceports, including Jaxa, Japan’s aerospace agency. The prospect of a JAXA launch from SaxaVord is a tantalizing first for the Europe-focused site.

The UK’s space sector took on new relevance when the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) authorised the UK’s first spaceport in Cornwall in November last year. And to diversify the possibilities, SaxaVord Spaceport – located in Lamba Ness region, Unst, on the Shetland Islands, Scotland – is set to initiate vertical space launches sometime this year.

According to Mr Freeman, the UK “has the ability to be in the premier league” and with a push to open more spaceports, Mr Freeman believes the UK will become a global industry-leader.

JAXA launch from SaxaVord Waits Approvals & Test Launches

SaxaVord Spaceport is in the process of applying for a launch licence from CAA. The Spaceport hopes to receive a licence from CAA by mid-August. SaxaVord aims to initiate launch trials this summer by testing sub-orbital rockets first.

Competition For Places On SaxaVord’s Launch Pads

The UK government is looking to capitalise on international interest in British spaceports. As such, plans such as a JAXA launch from SaxaVord may face stiff competition for a place on the launch pad. According to Orbital Today’s launch company rankings, Skyrora and Lockheed Martin are set to proceed with a launch each this year at SaxaVord, beating Jaxa to the launch site. Additionally, Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) was granted exclusive rights to one of the three launch pads, with a launch set to take place later this year.

Is SaxaVord – And The UK – Ready?

According to SaxaVord’s chief executive, the site could have been completed earlier if more public funding had been available. However, once SaxaVord is granted permission to start, they are planning to complete 30 launches per year, with the goal of increasing to 50 in the future. 

Frank Strang, chief executive of SaxaVord Spaceport, told MPs during the committee meeting that: “you need to understand that we are not selling ourselves to the companies that are coming to us. They are coming because the geography, the maths and the physics work. Scotland has the ability to be a genuine space nation. Had we got the public funding we would be ready now.”

Launching from Spaceport Cornwall 

So far, Cornwall is the only UK spaceport that has completed a launch – which was marked with a failed launch when Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket crashed due to fueling issues. Virgin Orbit was also a major launch partner for Spaceport Cornwall, but with their recent bankruptcy case and separation of major assets, it is hard to see if they will continue from anywhere. Spaceport Cornwall does have other launch partners, but there is the question of how soon those will launching. 

Space Agencies Push To Launch From UK’s SaxaVord & Spaceport Cornwall

News of Japan Space Agency wanting to launch from UK soil has been warmly welcomed – whether that’s from Spaceport Cornwall or SaxaVord, that’s yet to be disclosed. Nevertheless, the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology – headed by Mr Freeman – are looking forward to establishing the UK’s footings with both Spaceport Cornwall and SaxaVord, once deals with space companies have been completed.

When discussing possible launches from Spaceport Cornwall, Mr Freeman told the committee:

We see Spaceport Cornwall as a flagship spaceport, it’s the first licenced spaceport in Europe. As a result of the Virgin launch, it is in a number of important conversations with other launch parties both here and around the world that want to consider it as a base for launch. I’ve just come back from Japan where Jaxa said, ‘look, we’re very keen to pursue JAXA launches from the UK’.

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