Lockheed Martin’s new spaceport in Shetland a boost to UK space sector plans and economy

A giant in the aerospace industry, Lockheed Martin’s plans for a spaceport in Scotland have been approved and will soon lead to the construction of a port in Shetland. The UK-based arm of the company plans to move its Pathfinder Launch operation to the Shetland site at Lamba Ness, the island of Unst. 2024 is the predicated date of completion and it is estimated that over 600 jobs could be created out of the move as well as a further 350 within Shetland. The spaceport is a promising move and will play an important role in the UK’s growing space sector. We explore what the move means for the UK’s role in the space industry as well as its impact on the prosperity of Britain.

The move of Pathfinder Launch to the Shetland site will greatly enhance the capabilities of Scottish space missions. Facilities under construction expect to enhance Scotland’s existing vertical launch capability including the creation of a vertical launch spaceport. The spaceport’s vertical design could enable rockets to carry up to 600kg satellites into space for orbit – all without passing over inhabited areas. Home to some of the world’s most innovative satellite manufacturers, Scotland already has a strong footing in the space industry, but this particular project could catapult the UK forward as a whole. The space race is still very much alive and with Britain up against countries like Norway and New Zealand, the new spaceport gives them an edge not only in future space missions but on a manufacturing level. Scotland is focused on the manufacture of small space satellites and this, coupled with its ability to host complementary spaceport launch sites in Sutherland and Shetland, places the UK in a strong position to become Europe’s leading small satellite launch destination.

Cementing the UK’s position as a leader in the space sector, Lockheed’s plans for expansion will also benefit Britain’s economy and community. The UK space market economy is expected to grow to £400 billion by 2030, aiding the government’s plan to grow space activities in the UK by 10%. This growth in space activities will have a knock-on effect on employment with the Shetland Centre anticipating 605 jobs to open up by 2024. The manufacturing and support services that underpin the move are also expected to create a further 150 jobs; all of which is a promising sign in our uncertain times. Iain Stewart, UK Government minister for Scotland, commented on the economic importance of the planned move stating, “our investment in Scottish spaceports is creating hundreds of secure and skilled jobs for people in Scotland.”[1]

The ambitious launch operation has already started to trigger a domino effect; both Space Hub Sutherland and Shetland Space Centre have attracted commercial interest. This has led to a greater commercial investment in Scotland’s spaceports as a whole, leading some companies like Orbex to take a keen interest. A British aerospace company, Orbex has already built a rocket design facility near Forres and Inverness and is expected to add a further 130 jobs to the space market.  With the first launch expected in 2022 with the Prime Rocket, this is only the start of Britain’s many developments within the space industry. A sentiment that is echoed by Nik Smith, UK county executive of Lockheed, who sees the project as an economic and scientific boost to Britain. “The transfer of our UK spaceflight operations to Shetland will not only broaden launch options available in the UK, but also ensure the economic benefits of these endeavours are felt more widely.





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