Historic commercial rocket launch draws fuel from LEP funding

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An historic commercial rocket launch has taken place in the UK after a Norfolk business teamed up with a Scottish spaceport team for lift-off in the Outer Hebrides.

Gravitilab Aerospace Services, which received funding towards the project from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, joined forces with Spaceport 1 today for the launch of flight test vehicle ‘ADA’, named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician who is considered the world’s first computer programmer.

ADA took off from Benbecula Airport marking a successful launch for Spaceport 1, the consortium led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), which aims to open at Scolpaig, North Uist, in 2022. From this base, commercial sub-orbital space launches will begin to take place from within the UK.

Funding of £25k was awarded to Gravitilab from the LEP’s Growth Through Innovation Fund in April this year and the company is located at Scottow Enterprise Park, near Coltishall, part of the LEP’s Space to Innovate Enterprise Zone. The grant scheme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, has awarded £748k to 43 projects, generating £912k private match funding.

The landmark moment represents the first success for this unique commercial partnership between Spaceport 1 and Gravitilab, providing proper physical evidence of how companies can work together commercially under the new Government space framework to deliver a successful rocket launch from the UK.

Rob Adlard, Technical Director at Gravitilab Aerospace, said: “This launch is a hugely significant moment for Gravitilab. We have launched rockets before, but ADA is a step change for us as it is the rocket that is going provide a template for a future scaled-up programme that will significantly enhance our space access and microgravity service.

“Our work is offering microgravity as a research tool and testing service, which has not been offered commercially in the UK before. Everything from climate change science and driverless cars need assets in space. Our aim is to be part of this supply chain for small satellites that will transform the UK’s position in the world in the space sector.

“This successful launch is testament to the hard work of our team, Spaceport 1 and our investors.”

Gravitilab, formerly Raptor Aerospace, aims to make space more accessible by providing reliable and affordable microgravity research and testing services. ADA is the company’s first rocket designed to offer this, and the sub-orbital launch at Benbecula Airport is part of the company’s ongoing development programme.

Other Gravitilab launch vehicles in the pipeline also reference great pioneers in the field of discovery and science, including ISAAC (Newton) and MAX (Plank), as well as a unique UAV drone vehicle named LOUIS (Breguet).

The launch comes just weeks after the Government’s new framework to regulate the space industry came into force. This framework has the potential to thrust Scotland and the UK into the global forefront of the growing space sector making spaceport developments and space launches a reality.

For Spaceport 1, this offers the opportunity to become a working, viable commercial spaceport, as it looks to complete its site by 2022, with full commercial operations commencing in the same year.

Mark Roberts CBE, Spaceport 1 Programme Director, said: “This is a historic moment for Spaceport 1, the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and the UK. Our unique partnership with Gravitilab allows us to improve our procedures and progress towards a viable spaceport in North Uist.

“It opens up not only a route to space for inclusive, enterprising ventures like Gravitilab, but also offers this remote area of Scotland a chance to build a thriving business, bringing much-needed quality jobs to this region.”

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