How to build a spaceport


Around 250 kilometres off the north coast of Scotland, the Shetland isle of Unst is undergoing a dramatic renovation.

On a peninsula flanked by giant cliffs and open ocean, builders are constructing a spaceport. They call the project SaxaVord. They say it could host the first-ever vertical rocket launches from Western Europe.

It’s a bold objective that welcomes auspicious signs. One was discovered just this summer; another was already known when the team laid their founding stone. 

“It’s going from the Bronze Age to the Space Age.

Over 1,000 years ago, the locals say, Unst became the first footfall of the Vikings in the North Atlantic. Staff at SaxaVord would joke that they were exchanging longships for spaceships. They hoped to inherit the Norse spirit of exploration.

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The second harbinger revealed an even older heritage. While excavating the site, workers unearthed an ancient burial ground. The discovery suggests the site has over 4,000 years of human activity — three millennia longer than the Viking heritage. SaxaVord sensed another good omen — and a cute new slogan.

“It’s going from the Bronze Age to the Space Age. That’s how we see it,” Scott Hammond, the spaceport’s operations director and deputy CEO, tells TNW. “We also think there’s a stone circle, which would have been aligned with the stars. It just goes to show, doesn’t it? If it was a good location in the Bronze Age, it’s a good location now.”

It’s a good location for several reasons — but more on that later. It’s also a location with a powerful pull for Europe’s burgeoning spacetech sector.

View of SaxaVord Spaceport from the sea