back to article Astra Space to launch satellites from Shetland

The UK's SaxaVord spaceport has agreed a deal with Astra Space to launch satellites from the Unst facility from 2023. Unst in Shetland, scotland Isle of Unst, Shetlands, Scotland The ambitious plans are subject to agreements, approvals, and the site actually being built (consent for that from the Shetland Islands Council …

  1. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Best of luck, Astra!

    Fly, fly my pretties!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

    I thought the point of launching from places like Texas is that the rotation of the earth can give you an extra 1,000mph if you do it right. You wouldn't get so much of this in places nearer the poles. Why did they pick such a northern spot?

    1. Emir Al Weeq

      Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

      I was going to ask the same thing. Have an upvote and let's hope we are enlightened.

    2. Floydian Slip

      Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

      I'm guessing that it's a better launch point for satellites going in to a polar orbit - perhaps?

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

        All other things being equal, the closer you are to the equator the more flexibility you have. The major issue with accessing high inclination orbits from certain launch sites closer to the equator is having to fly over populated areas, or rather those populated areas (rightly) objecting to being flown over (...and having failed or spent rocket stages land on them). Launching due north from Vandenberg or The Cape would be difficult, for example, hence the need for indirect launch profiles from those locations, or alternative launch sites in less populated areas. The fact that population density tends to decrease the closer you get to the poles is a handy coincidence.

    3. genghis_uk

      Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

      My (limited) understanding is that changing angle of orbit takes a lot of extra fuel fuel.

      If you launch from the equator and want an equatorial orbit, all is fine and you can take advantage of the Earth's rotation. However, for any other orbit, you have to add an angle to transition from LEO to the final orbit and that is really expensive on fuel.

      Starting from a latitude closer to the final orbit saves more fuel than you lose in take off...

      (There are probably a lot of calculations involved - this is space after all!)

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

        A plane change does cost fuel. But you launch and boost into the direction of your plane, regardless of where you are, you avoid a launch on one plane and changing to another. A high latitude launch is for high inclination orbits as it loses the advantage of being launched to the East to gain from the Earth rotation. It seems stupid to restrict launch sites to high inclination orbits only just for the sake of being able to launch from sovereign territory. There must be places available near the equator with an unpopulated north and eastern downrange that would be a better launch site.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

          You still have to kill any easterly velocity either by launching west of north or by making the change once in orbit. I don't see any fuel savings either way.

    4. Danny 2

      Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

      1) Whales. If you fly into Shetland then you always see susans of whales. If we ever hope to get whales into space then we need to launch from their locale. Why do we need whales in space? I dunno, ask Douglas Adams, ask Star Trek IV, ask Iain M. Banks..And if you are launching a whale then jet fuel and latitude is not such an issue

      2) Rocket fuel is so explosive that Trident missiles aren't allowed anywhere near Plymouth - they have to be unloaded before going into Devonport and not because of the nukes. It's a bit of a risk to the local population, hence Shetland.

      I flew up to Shetland about thirty times in one job. Always saw whales around the coast from the air. And one thing made me laugh, even on a bright blue day everywhere else there was a grey cloud above the islands. I dunno which god they annoyed.

      1. Spherical Cow

        Re: Isn't it a bit far from the equator?

        [cetacean needed]

  3. andy gibson

    Ahhh, Astra

    I fondly recall Astra back in the day when you had to manually tune into satellite channels by their frequency (and the H/V switch) and had a great mix of UK and European channels (Tutti Fruiti on RTL on a Sunday night anyone?)

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