Lockheed confirms UK's small satellites launch capability

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UK ambitions to be Europe’s first launch site for small satellites have moved forward with confirmation of ABL Space Systems’ vehicle for launches.

small satellites
First UK vertical satellite launch moves closer (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin has contracted ABL Space Systems, of El Segundo, California, to supply a rocket and associated launch services for the company’s first UK vertical satellite launch.

Lockheed Martin to move UK satellite launch program to Shetland

The UK Pathfinder Launch project plans the first vertical small satellite launch from Scotland in 2022. It will also be the first UK commercial launch for ABL Space Systems’ new RS1 rocket.

Nik Smith, Regional Director, Lockheed Martin Space, said: “The world-class capability that ABL Space Systems brings will allow us to build on our long-standing partnership with the UK and strengthen the growth of the UK’s space sector, aligned to the UK Government’s prosperity and industrial strategy.”

"Our team was founded to deliver new launch capabilities, on-demand,” added Harry O'Hanley, co-Founder and CEO of ABL Space Systems. “We're thrilled at the opportunity to bring our system to Shetland’s launch site and execute this ground-breaking mission with our partners.”

In October 2020, the UK Space Agency confirmed Lockheed Martin’s plans to move its programme to the Shetland Space Centre and in January 2021, planning proposals were submitted for the space launch facility in Unst.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO, UK Space Agency said: “We want the UK to be the first in Europe to launch small satellites into orbit, attracting innovative businesses from all over the world, accelerating the development of new technologies and creating hundreds of high-skilled jobs across the whole of the UK. Lockheed Martin’s selection of ABL Space Systems for their UK Pathfinder launch brings us one step closer to realising this ambition.”

The addition of ABL Space Systems as a partner completes Lockheed Martin’s UK Pathfinder Launch programme team. On launch day, ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rocket will lift off from Shetland Space Centre, in Unst, Shetland, the UK's most northerly island.

Once in orbit, the rocket will release a small launch orbital manoeuvring vehicle, built by MOOG, in Reading, which can carry and deploy up to six 6U CubeSats, two of which will be Lockheed Martin’s own technology demonstration spacecraft.