Rocket launches from Western Isles ahead of planned spaceport opening

·2-min read

A commercial rocket has launched from a UK island ahead of the planned opening of a spaceport.

The rocket, named ADA, blasted off from Benbecula Airport in the Western Isles on Thursday.

Spaceport 1 joined forces with East Anglian firm Gravitilab Aerospace Services to launch the flight test vehicle, named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician who is considered the world’s first computer programmer.

Rocket launch
The rocket uses High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) for fuel (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Spaceport 1 is a consortium led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), which plans to open spaceport in the Western Isles at Scolpaig, North Uist in 2022, for commercial, sub-orbital space launches.

Mark Roberts, Spaceport 1 programme director, said: “This is a historic moment for Spaceport 1, the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and the UK.

“Our unique partnership with Gravitilab allows us to improve our procedures and progress towards a viable spaceport in North Uist.

“It opens up not only a route to space for inclusive, enterprising ventures like Gravitilab, but also offers this remote area of Scotland a chance to build a thriving business, bringing much-needed quality jobs to this region.”

Gravitilab aims to make space more accessible by providing reliable and affordable microgravity research and testing services, with ADA the company’s first rocket designed for this.

Rocket
The launch team at Benbecula Airport (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Rob Adlard, Gravitilab Aerospace technical director, said: “This launch is a hugely significant moment for Gravitilab.

“We have launched rockets before, but ADA is a step change for us as it is the rocket that is going provide a template for a future scaled-up programme that will significantly enhance our space access and microgravity service.

“Our work is offering microgravity as a research tool and testing service, which has not been offered commercially in the UK before.

“Everything from climate change science and driverless cars need assets in space.

“Our aim is to be part of this supply chain for small satellites that will transform the UK’s position in the world in the space sector.”

Spaceport 1’s site at Scolpaig, North Uist is one of several proposed locations for licenced spaceports in the UK.

In Scotland, these include Unst in Shetland, the A’ Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland, Prestwick in South Ayrshire and Campbeltown in Argyll and Bute.

Elsewhere in the UK there are spaceport proposals for Newquay in Cornwall and Snowdonia in North Wales.

The first commercial rocket launch in Scotland took place in August 2018 when Skyrora’s 2.5 metre (9ft) projectile reached altitudes of almost four miles after taking off at the Kildermorie Estate in Ross-shire.

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