Britain set for first ever vertical rocket launch from portable pad on remote island

The first vertical rocket to leave British soil for Earth’s orbit is scheduled to blast off next year.

Up until now, UK-built rockets have only taken off from the US, French Guiana and Kazakhstan.

But Edinburgh-based firm Skyrora is set on launching from Unst in the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland.

It will host the new SaxaVord spaceport, which is hoping to launch 16 rockets a year by 2030.

The mobile launch system can be packed into shipping containers and sent anywhere globally.

One container holds the 74ft XL rocket and unfurls to become its launchpad and gantry.

The UK Space Agency aims to capture a 10% share of the global space market, which is projected to be worth £490billion a year in a decade.

Lee Rosen, Skyrora’s chief operations officer, said the company will aim to provide “a kind of Uber service”.

He added: “We will provide a specific orbit, to the specific altitude, with very specific parameters for how the vehicle is delivered.”

Mr Rosen joined Skyrora in May from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. He believes the mobile launch system could give Britain diplomatic boosts.

Mr Rosen, who served in the US Air Force for 23 years, said the Ukraine war has shown the value of satellite technology for defence.

Three years ago there were just 3,000 satellites in orbit. Now there are 6,000.

Mr Musk’s Starlink project, which aims to provide internet services, has launched more than 2,500 satellites and has applied for 40,000 more.

OneWeb, part-owned by the UK government, wants 7,000 satellites in orbit. By 2030, the Satellite Industry Association estimates there could be more than 100,000.

Mr Rosen said Mr Musk’s huge rockets can take 100 satellites on a single launch, adding: “It is going to be very difficult to compete with SpaceX on cost.”

Skyrora is aiming to be one of the greenest rocket launchers, using plastic waste to produce fuel.

But it is unlikely to be the first to launch from UK soil as Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit expects to fire its first rocket from Cornwall this year.

That will be a “horizontal launch” where a plane will take off, fly into international waters and then send a rocket.