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Lockheed Martin picks ABL’s rocket to make its first UK launch

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.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

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