THE rocket that will kickstart the UKs entry into the space race has been selected by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
An unmanned craft built by US startup ABL Space Systems could take to the skies from a new spaceport in the Shetland Islands as early as next year.
Its first mission will be to launch a “space tug” developed by Moog in the UK that will deploy up to six small satellites, reports BBC News.
The announcement fulfils a £23.5million agreement with the British government announced in 2018.
Under the deal, Lockheed will conduct space launches from a proposed three-pad port to be built on Unst, the most northerly island in Shetland.
The Shetland Space Centre will be used to launch satellites but could host manned missions to the space station or even commercial passenger flights in future.
Lockheed said on Sunday that ABL will perform a launch of its RS1 rocket from the port in 2022.
The company, based in El Segundo, California, has yet to conduct a space launch, even in the United States.
It has been testing its space tech over the past few months and hopes to get a maiden launch under its belt later this year.
“We are absolutely committed to the success of this program,” Lockheed’s Nik Smith said in a statement.
“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 space sector.”
ABL’s two-stage rocket has been designed to be light and cost-effective, and can carry a payload weighing more than a tonne.
It will stand just 27 metres (88ft) tall and will be dwarfed by other commercial craft, such as the 63m (207ft) Falcon 9 operated by SpaceX.
That compact size means the rocket, its complex electronics and other part can fit into shipping containers for transport.
Burning liquid kerosene and oxygen, the RS1 will drop its cargo into a 500km-high (310-mile) orbit.
“We want the UK to be the first in Europe to launch small satellites into orbit, attracting innovative businesses from all over the world,” Ian Annett, deputy chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said in the statement.
“Lockheed Martin’s selection of ABL Space Systems for their UK Pathfinder launch brings us one step closer to realizing this ambition, putting the UK firmly on the map as Europe’s leading small satellite launch destination.”
Plans for the Shetland Space Centre on the Lamba Ness peninsula on Unst still need to be approved by the Shetland Islands Council.
It’s the ideal launch spot due to its close proximity to the type of polar orbit often favoured by Earth-observation satellites.
The island’s frigid climate also helps with the storage of rocket fuel, which has to be kept at extremely low temperatures.
The UK has only conducted a single orbital rocket launch – which blasted off from Australia in 1971.
No rocket has ever been launched from UK soil.
Lockheed’s contract covers a single launch, though ABL hopes to expand that to regular flights in future.
“We’re hoping to establish a regular launch cadence from Shetland Space Centre, allowing us to better serve the European satellite market,” an ABL spokesman said.
“We are beginning to formulate our European strategy and recently incorporated an ABL UK subsidiary to support these efforts.”
Terrifying space weapons of the future
Here are three of the scariest…
Rods from God
- A strange but utterly terrifying weapon has been dubbed “rods from the God” and is based on the concept of creating man-made meteorites that can be guided towards the enemy.
- Instead of using rocks rods the size of telephone poles are deployed.
- These would be made out of tungsten — a rare metal that can stand the intense heat generated by entering Earth’s atmosphere.
- One satellite fires the rods towards the Earth’s atmosphere while the other steers them to a target on the ground.
- Reaching speeds of 7000mph they hit the ground with the force of a small nuclear weapon — but crucially creating no radiation fall out.
- As bizarre as it sounds, a US Congressional report recently revealed the military has been pushing ahead with the kinetic space weapons.
Molten metal cannons
- This intriguing idea is being developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- It is called the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition or MAHEM.
- This game changing rail-gun can fire a jet of molten metal, hurled through space at several hundred miles per second by the most powerful electromagnets ever built.
- The molten metal can then morph into an aerodynamic slug during flight and pierce through another spacecraft or satellite and a munition explodes inside.
Space force ships
- Already the United States is powering head with its spacecraft, although China is busy developing one of their own.
- The top secret American XS-1 under development by DARPA.
- It can travel ten times the speed of sound and launch missiles.
- Meanwhile an unmanned craft is currently being developed in the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Centre in Mianyang, Sichuan province, which is also known as Base 29.
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In other news, SpaceX is plotting to launch a phone network using its growing network of Starlink satellites.
SpaceX boss Elon Musk wants to send humans to Mars as early as 2024 aboard one of the huge rockets.
And, Nasa set a hillside on fire during a recent test of the “most powerful rocket ever built”.
What do you think of the UK’s space plans? Let us know in the comments!
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