in Space

First UK vertical satellite launch moves closer

Posted 8 February 2021 · Add Comment

The UK’s first ever vertical satellite launch from British soil moved one step closer today with confirmation that a launch vehicle from ABL Space Systems will power the first satellite into space.



Image courtesy Lockheed Martin


Lockheed Martin has contracted ABL Space Systems, of El Segundo, California, a developer of low-cost launch vehicles and launch systems for the small satellite industry, to supply a rocket and associated launch services for the company’s first UK vertical satellite launch.

The project known as UK Pathfinder Launch is planned to be the first ever vertical small satellite launch from UK soil, from Scotland in 2022. It will also be the first UK commercial launch for U.S.-based ABL Space Systems’ new RS1 rocket.

Nik Smith, Regional Director, Lockheed Martin Space, said: “The  world class capability that ABL Space Systems brings will allow us to build on our long-standing partnership with the UK and strengthen the growth of the UK’s space sector, aligned to the UK Government’s prosperity and industrial strategy.”

ABL Space Systems’ flexible, integrated GSO launch system, and RS1 rocket, allows for a rapid and cost-effective deployment with outstanding launch performance.

“ABL Space Systems is proud to partner with Lockheed Martin on the UK Pathfinder Launch Program," said Harry O'Hanley, co-Founder and CEO of ABL Space Systems. "Our team was founded to deliver new launch capabilities, on-demand. We're thrilled at the opportunity to bring our system to Shetland’s launch site and execute this ground-breaking mission with our partners.”
 
Lockheed Martin’s UK Pathfinder Launch supports the UK Space Agency’s commercial spaceflight programme – ‘Launch UK’. In October 2020, the UK Space Agency confirmed Lockheed Martin’s plans to move its programme to the Shetland Space Centre and last month, planning proposals were submitted for the space launch facility in Unst.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO, UK Space Agency said: “We want the UK to be the first in Europe to launch small satellites into orbit, attracting innovative businesses from all over the world, accelerating the development of new technologies and creating hundreds of high-skilled jobs across the whole of the UK. Lockheed Martin’s selection of ABL Space Systems for their UK Pathfinder launch brings us one step closer to realising this ambition – putting the UK firmly on the map as Europe’s leading small satellite launch destination.

“In this challenging time, it’s more important than ever that we support technologies that will help create jobs and economic growth, enabling people and businesses across the country to benefit from the commercial opportunities offered by the UK’s growing space sector and the many firms throughout its supply chain.”

The addition of ABL Space Systems as a partner completes Lockheed Martin’s UK Pathfinder Launch programme team. On launch day, ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket will lift off from Shetland Space Centre, in Unst, Shetland, the UK's most northerly island.

Once in orbit, the rocket will release a small launch orbital manoeuvring vehicle, an agile platform built by MOOG, in Reading, UK, which can carry and deploy up to six 6U CubeSats (miniaturized satellites for space research that are made up of multiple cubic modules) optimising orbital placement and timing for each small satellite’s mission.

Two of the CubeSats deployed will be Lockheed Martin’s own technology demonstration spacecraft.

Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, welcomed the announcement as a significant milestone on the road to the Pathfinder launch from Unst: "We look forward to working closely with LM and ABL on delivery in Shetland of this vitally important mission for the continued growth of the space sector in the UK."

Headquartered in London, Lockheed Martin UK has operated in country for nearly 80 years.

 

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