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Lockheed Martin selects ABL Space Systems for UK launch

The UK Pathfinder launch by Lockheed Martin from the Shetland Space Center in 2022 will use an RS1 rocket from ABL Space Systems.

Lockheed Martin, an American aerospace company has contracted ABL Space Systems to supply a rocket and launch services to launch from the United Kingdom. The deal is part of the UK Pathfinder Launch programme, which is planned to be the first vertical small satellite launch from the United Kingdom. It is set to take off from Scotland in 2022.

ABL Space Systems, developer of low-cost launch vehicle based in El Segundo, California, is developing the RS1 small satellite launch vehicle, and completed integrated stage testing of the RS1 second stage in October 2020. Lockheed Martin has been a strategic investor in the venture since 2019.

Speaking about the contract, Nik Smith, Regional Director, Lockheed Martin Space, said: “We are absolutely committed to the success of this programme and 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, aligned to the UK Government’s prosperity and industrial strategy.”

ABL Space Systems’ flexible, integrated GSO launch system, and RS1 rocket, allows for rapid and cost-effective deployment with outstanding launch performance.

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

Lockheed Martin’s UK Pathfinder Launch supports the UK Space Agency’s commercial spaceflight programme – Launch UK.

In October, the UK Space Agency confirmed Lockheed Martin’s plans to move its programme to the Shetland Space Centre and in January, 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 – putting the UK firmly on the map as Europe’s leading small satellite launch destination.

“In this challenging time, it’s more important than ever that we support technologies that will help create jobs and economic growth, enabling people and businesses across the country to benefit from the commercial opportunities offered by the UK’s growing space sector and the many firms throughout its supply chain.”

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, an agile platform built by MOOG, in Reading, UK, which can carry and deploy up to six 6U CubeSats, optimising orbital placement and timing for each small satellite’s respective missions.

To demonstrate the full value of this new UK space transportation capability, two of the CubeSats deployed will be Lockheed Martin’s own technology demonstration spacecraft.