Space is an exciting and innovative new sector for Shetland’s growing economy with established and emerging companies perfectly poised to support the needs of the developing industry.

Shetland’s location in the northernmost reaches of the UK make it an optimal place for the space economy.

The island of Unst in particular was identified in an independent report for the UK Government as the best location in the country for the launch of small vertical rockets transporting small satellites into low earth orbits. Its northerly location also means it is ideal for tracking and communicating with satellites already in orbit.

Home to the privately-funded SaxaVord Space Port, Lamba Ness in Unst is already the chosen site for the UK Space Agency’s UK Pathfinder Launch, to be carried out in 2022 by space industry behemoth Lockheed Martin and rocket manufacturer ABL Systems.

German rocket company HyImpulse has also signalled its intention to launch from Unst, and has carried out a series of engine tests at the former Scatsta Airfield adjacent to the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, with more tests and the launch of a sounding rocket planned.

SaxaVord Space Port is currently awaiting a determination on its planning application for the Lamba Ness site.

With 50 years of oil and gas activity around Shetland, the local economy is perfectly poised to support the needs of the space industry, and companies such as Ocean Kinetics, Pure Energy, Sandisons, Streamline, Shetland Power Tools and Nordri have already demonstrated their can-do attitude and ability to deliver.

In all, SaxaVord Spaceport intends to construct three launch pads and associated infrastructure incorporating a satellite tracking facility, hangarage and integration facilities, the creation of a range control centre at the former RAF Saxa Vord complex, use of the fuel storage facility at Ordale Airport at Baltasound, and significant improvements to the launch site’s approach roads.

The proposals also include the building of a wildlife hide at Lamba Ness to help facilitate enhanced public access for the enjoyment of bird and orca watching.

Supported by a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) prepared by a team of environmental consultants, the application, if successful, will be a major economic boost to the North Isles, Scotland and the UK.

It is estimated the launch facility will create around 140 jobs on Unst and inject at least £4.9m per annum into the island’s economy. It is anticipated a further 70 jobs will be provided throughout Shetland, adding a further £2.9m in gross value to the economy.

'Major milestone'

In conjunction with its partner LeafSpace, SaxaVord Space Port has also installed the first of a series of antennae for its ground station, which will support small and medium sized satellites in low earth orbit.

This 3.7m parabolic dish antenna, housed within a 4.8 diameter protective radome, is located on a temporary site at Ordale Airport near Baltasound in Unst.

The installation was supported by four local companies – Pure Energy, Sandisons, RS Henderson and Streamline.

SaxaVord Spaceport Data and Ground Station Manager Jacques Meheut said the installation marked a "major milestone" towards the first active space industry activity in Shetland.

Partner network Leafspace had a number of satellite operators sending equipment into space on board a SpaceX’s Transporter 2 mission in June 2021. Five satellites will use the Shetland-based antenna for continued mission support.

Meanwhile, SaxaVord Space Port has entered a lease arrangement with Shetland Islands Council for the use of Baltasound Airport, with the intention of bringing the designated airfield back to life.

The plans include the refurbishment or demolition and rebuild of the existing hangar and to recreate the small heliport that operated up to 1996, this time supporting aerospace and space rather than the oil industry.

SaxaVord is also working with the SIC towards the construction of a small tech hub housing industrial units to support the new industry, as featured in the Islands Deal announced previously.


The small satellite industry is growing in the UK and Scotland, in particular, is leading the way. Shetland is setting out its stall to be a major player in the sector and will welcome approaches from companies associated with all parts of the space ecosystem, including satellite manufacturing, telecoms, launch platform design, cyber security, ground station operation and design, and data analytics.

Now is the time to invest in this exciting sector as it takes off in the North Isles and establishes Shetland in the global space economy. For more information, visit the SaxaVord Space Port website.