Capitalism in space: Lockheed Martin has chosen the smallsat rocket company ABL Space Systems to launch its first UK satellite payload from Shetland.
Lockheed said Feb. 7 that ABL will perform a launch of its RS1 rocket from the Shetland Space Centre, a spaceport to be developed on the island of Unst in the Shetlands, in 2022. The rocket, on a mission called the UK Pathfinder launch, will place into orbit a tug developed by Moog in the UK that will then deploy six 6U cubesats.
The launch will fulfill an award made by the British government in 2018 to support development of a domestic launch capability. The $31 million contract to Lockheed Martin covered a launch, then planned for a spaceport at Sutherland in northern Scotland, as well as Moog’s orbital maneuvering vehicle.
Lockheed did not disclose at the time, though, which vehicle it would use for the launch. The company does not have a small launch vehicle of its own compatible with the spaceport, but has invested in companies working on such vehicles, including ABL Space Systems and Rocket Lab.
It appears Lockheed choose ABL over Rocket Lab because of its mobile launch capability. As designed, its RS1 rocket needs no permanent infrastructure at the launch site. All they need is a concrete pad.
This decision also heightens the competition between the two presently proposed UK spaceports in Sutherland, Scotland, and Unst, Shetland. While planning at Sutherland started earlier, local opposition appears to be slowing it down.
ABL is one of six smallsat rocket companies planning a first orbital launch in 2021. While it is unlikely all will do so, the likelihood is increasing that several will, which will make things very busy in the rocket industry.
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