Senior minister for UK space launches needed, MPs told

The deputy CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said they are aiming for their first rocket launches this summer.

Neil Pooran
Monday 08 January 2024 17:32 GMT
SaxaVord Spaceport hope to launch rockets this summer (SaxaVord UK)
SaxaVord Spaceport hope to launch rockets this summer (SaxaVord UK) (PA Media)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


A senior minister directly responsible for the space launch industry is needed to help businesses in the sector, MPs have been told.

On Monday, Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee heard from companies involved in spaceports which are being built in Scotland.

Scott Hammond, deputy CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said they are aiming for their first rocket launches this summer.

The spaceport, located on the island of Unst at the northernmost point of the UK, was recently granted its licence by the Civil Aviation Authority.

While UK Science Minister Andrew Griffith has the space sector within his portfolio, Mr Hammond said a cabinet-level role is needed.

Mr Hammond told the committee he welcomed the space strategies published by the Scottish and UK Governments but felt more resources should be made available.

He said: “For me, there’s almost too many cooks involved.

“I think what we need to look at is having a senior politician directly responsible for space and space launch and I would suggest that at cabinet level.”

Despite the UK Government space portfolio, he said it is still “difficult to know who’s actually running launch in the UK”.

He gave the example of seeking permissions from Scottish Government’s marine directorate, something he said was taking six months rather than 14 weeks as promised.

He was on a panel of witnesses that also included Martin Coates, chief executive of rocket company Orbex, which plans to launch from Sutherland Spaceport on the Scottish mainland, and David Oxley of the regional development agency Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE).

Committee member Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, asked the panel if HIE had “put all your eggs into one basket” by investing heavily in the Sutherland spaceport.

Those involved in SaxaVord have previously complained that HIE is unfairly supporting their competitor.

Mr Oxley said Sutherland Spaceport had appeared to be in a “better place” in 2018 but acknowledged circumstances had changed since then.

He said it is “great” that two sites are coming close to their first launches and talks are ongoing about support for SaxaVord.

Mr Coates said he did not believe his company is in competition with SaxaVord as Sutherland will only be hosting launches by Orbex.

However, Mr Hammond said he saw no need for a “dissipation of resources” in having more than one spaceport in Scotland.

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