The U.K. space launch is scheduled for significant changes following differences in launching requirements for the industry’s two most prominent players. According to recent reports, the U.K.’s most considerable player in space exploration announced plans to shift its operations base from the previously appointed Space Hub launch station in Scotland to a newly proposed site in the Shetland Islands.
The split comes after the U.K. Space Agency announced that both companies were the first to launch off the Space Hub launch site. During a brief with Liz Crawshaw, Lockheed’s spokesperson, she detailed that the split results from operational differences between the two companies. Orbex’s operations require using their integrated fuel consisting of liquid oxygen and biopropane to produce an environment-friendly substitute for kerosene. According to reports, this customized fuel has the potential to produce energy output at par or exceeding kerosene.
Currently, Lockheed suffers a shortage in a suitable launch vehicle. However, things seem to be in Orbex’s favor as they have a dedicated small launch vehicle customized to fit their needs. Nevertheless, Lockheed has advantages due to previous investment in upcoming start-ups that focus on assembling small launch vehicles. Lockheed’s ties to Rocket Lab’s effort accords it a chance to use the Electron rocket as a suitable small launch vehicle.
Government officials back up the idea for the split stating that it is a good move toward solidifying U.K.’s space exploration industry. The U.K. Space Agency hopes to use this shift to gather enough support from major players in the region and be able to set itself as on authority in the space exploration industry
There are concerns whether the available demand in the U.K. warrants the existence of two launch sites. Speculations into the U.K.’s demand capacity show that new entries from the United Kingdom plan to use the upcoming launch pads upon completion. Among these companies is C6 Launch Systems, which recently announced plans to initiate its small launch vehicle on the soon-to-be-completed Shetland Space Center. The company expressed confidence in its prospects announcing that it will soon commence engine tests at its base in Spaceport America.
The U.K also has plans to expand its launching bases to include an additional launch pad on the Cornwall Airport in England. This new launch site is a project to host Virgin Orbits’ improved launch system called the LauncherOne. Spaceport Cornwall expects the project to be operational by the beginning of 2022.