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Lockheed Martin Selects ABL Space Systems to Launch from Scotland

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
February 8, 2021
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RS1 integrated stage test (Credit: ABL Space Systems)

Lockheed Martin has selected California-based ABL Space Systems to launch the RS1 rocket from a new spaceport on the island of Unst in northern Scotland.

The aerospace giant will partner with ABL Space, which will launch the rockets, and the Shetland Space Centre, which is developing the spaceport. Lockheed Martin has made a strategic investment in ABL.

The two-stage RS1 rocket will be capable of placing payloads weighing 1,350 kg (2,976 lb) to low Earth orbit at a cost of $12 million. The price per kg for a 200 km low Earth orbit will be $8,888 ($4,040 per lb). Launching a payload to a 500 km sun sychronous orbit will cost customers $12,000 per kg (5,455 per lb).

RS1 is designed to be rugged enough to fit into a shipping container. ABL Space is looking to conduct the maiden launch of RS1 by June. A launch from Unst island would occur sometime next year.

Unst is the northern most of the Shetland islands. It is ideal for launching satellites into polar orbit. Launches to the east would be dangerous because they would risk dropping debris on Europe.

The UK government gave Lockheed Martin £23.5 million ($32.3 million) in 2018 to further its plans to launch rockets from Britain.

Shetland Space Centre is planning to build three launch pads at the spaceport. A Canadian startup named C6 Launch Systems signed a letter of intent to launch from the facility last June.

Shetland Space Centre also announced last week that HyImpulse Technologies of Germany plans to conduct engine tests and launch sub-orbital sounding rockets from Unst beginning later this year. A maiden orbital flight would follow in 2023.

The UK has become a hot spot for orbital launches. Orbex has plans to launjch its Prime rocket from a rival spaceport in Sutherland. And Virgin Orbit plans bring its its Cosmic Gril Boeing 747 and LauncherOne to Cornwall.