UK and European Space Agency funding boost for satellite launch from Shetland


SATELLITE launch company RFA UK (Rocket Factory Ltd) has received £3.5 million to support its plans to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Islands.  

The funding was awarded by the UK Space Agency as part of the European Space Agency (ESA), Boost! Programme, which aims to help innovative companies develop new launch technologies and bring them to market. The announcement comes as UK Science Minister, George Freeman, visits SaxaVord Spaceport to see progress at the site and meet key members of the project team. 

RFA UK will use the funding to develop and operate the infrastructure and test equipment needed to enable them to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport and are planning to launch in Q2 2024. RFA UK and SaxaVord Spaceport anticipate around 90 skilled jobs will be created locally when the spaceport reaches full operational capability including spaceport operations and administration, integration, testing and launch. 

A subsidiary of Rocket Factory Augsburg AG (RFA AG), the UK company is headquartered in Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland. RFA AG will have exclusive access to SaxaVord’s ‘Fredo’ launch pad from where it plans to provide a regular cadence of launch services as one of the spaceport’s anchor customers.  

Measuring 30 metres tall and 2 metres wide, the RFA ONE launch vehicle is a three-stage launch vehicle capable of deploying up to 1,300 kg to a 500 km polar orbit. The rocket uses efficient and environmentally friendly Helix staged-combustion engines, stainless steel tanks and standardised components from other industries to offer flexible, low-cost and precise transportation into orbit with its Redshift OTV. 

George Freeman MP, Minister of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: 

“The UK’s high growth £17bn space industry is on the frontline of advanced satellite manufacturing and satcomms technology and services, and set to grow fast as the commercial Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite sector expands in the next decade.  

“Through our £1.5bn UK space funding programmes the Government is backing satcomms technology, space science, missions and infrastructure to support the commercial satellite sector. 

“This £3.5 million investment will enable RFA UK to develop the technologies necessary to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in Scotland, creating dozens of jobs locally and growing the Scottish cluster as a key part of the UK space sector.” 

Matt Archer, Director of Launch, UK Space Agency, said:  

“Our investment in Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) UK demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe’s leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies.  

“This contract will help RFA UK and SaxaVord Spaceport prepare for their first launch, creating high skilled jobs and supporting Government’s vision for the UK to be Europe’s most attractive launch destination by 2030.”   

RFA UK was set-up to implement and operate launch-specific system and test equipment to support RFA AG’s planned launches from SaxaVord Spaceport. 

Jörn Spurmann, Managing Director, RFA UK and Chief Commercial Officer, RFA AG, commented:  

“The support received from the UK Space Agency underscores their strong confidence in our approach. We are eagerly anticipating our inaugural orbital launch in mainland Europe from the SaxaVord Spaceport on British territory. This event will further cement our position as the pioneers in European commercial spaceflight. At the same time, it demonstrates the unwavering confidence the European Space Agency has in our strategy. 

“With the UK contributing as the third nation to the RFA ONE development via C-STS Boost!, we solidify our role as a genuine European launch service provider and the most endorsed commercial launch service development within the C-STS Boost! Programme. We are absolutely delighted to reciprocate this faith and support.” 

Other funding provided by the UK Space Agency to support launch activities includes £23.4 million in two separate grants to Lockheed Martin to establish launch operations from SaxaVord Spaceport and to build a small launch orbital manoeuvring vehicle in Reading which will launch on Lockheed Martin’s pathfinder launch from the site. 

Scott Hammond, SaxaVord Spaceport deputy CEO, said:  

“We are delighted that the UK Space Agency has awarded this funding to our client to help them progress towards launch from our site in Unst, the UK’s first vertical launch spaceport.” 

UK Government Minister for Scotland, John Lamont, said:  

“The Scottish space sector continues to go from strength to strength with the latest figures showing an almost £40 million increase in income and more than 100 new highly-skilled jobs with support from the UK Government. This new funding will help support launches from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland, and maintain UK leadership in this sector.” 

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