The spaceport at the northern-most tip of the UK has received its range control licence from the regulator as it prepares for its first launch this year.

SaxaVord Spaceport on Unst has been given permission by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to clear and control the “downrange” zone during launches.

It means the CAA is confident the spaceport can keep maritime and aviation traffic secure when rockets blast off from the site on the Shetland Islands.

The granting of the range licence comes after SaxaVord was granted its spaceport licence in December, which verified the privately-owned site meets the safety and environmental requirements for vertical space launches.

The Herald: Frank Strange of SaxaVord welcomed the licence Frank Strange of SaxaVord welcomed the licence (Image: (SaxaVord/PA))

The next part of the regulatory process will be a launch operator licence for the companies wishing to use the spaceport.

Colin Macleod, head of space regulation at the CAA, said: “SaxaVord’s range licence is vital to protecting public safety during launches.

“Our work is enabling the UK’s expanding space sector and encouraging safety, sustainability and security of space activity.”

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German company Rocket Factory Augsburg hopes to be the first to launch satellites into space from Unst later this year, though a number of organisations have expressed interest in using the site.

Ultimately, they wish to build up the frequency of their launches to around one per month.

Frank Strang, chief executive of SaxaVord Spaceport, said: “We are delighted to have been granted our range licence by the Civil Aviation Authority and had it approved by the Secretary of State for Transport, following on from our spaceport licence in December last year.

The Herald: German company Rocket Factory Augsburg hopes to launch later this year German company Rocket Factory Augsburg hopes to launch later this year (Image: Rocket Factory Augsburg)

“Both awards are historic milestones for ourselves in Shetland and the development of the UK space sector in its entirety.

“This is a vital component in our preparations for launch. Satisfying such a crucial piece of the regulatory process affords everyone the comfort that we will always operate in a safe and proper manner under the watchful eye of the regulator.

“As Western Europe’s only fully licensed vertical launch spaceport, we are now preparing to make more space history with the beginning of orbital launch operations well under way and first launch expected to be in Q3 of this year.”

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The CAA says the size of the clearance zones will depend on the type of rocket being used, with larger areas being needed for early launches due to the higher risk of failure.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today’s announcement is an important next step for SaxaVord as it prepares for the first commercial vertical space launch in the United Kingdom.

“It is vital that launches are safe for everyone involved, which is what this range licence will ensure – enabling SaxaVord to continue supporting skilled UK jobs and help grow the economy.”