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Rocket Start-Up ABL Space Hopes to Launch First-Ever Mission From Europe for Lockheed Martin

ABL Space
  • Lockheed Martin said it selected rocket-builder ABL Space to launch a mission with an RS1 rocket from Scotland in 2022.
  • The companies hope this would be the first satellite launch from the U.K. and the first from European soil.
  • The mission comes through a grant from the U.K. Space Agency's "Pathfinder Launch" program, with the RS1 rocket launching from the Scottish isle of Unst in the Shetland Islands.

Lockheed Martin announced Monday it selected Los Angeles-based rocket-builder ABL Space to launch a mission from Scotland in two years.

The companies said they expect the launch, planned for 2022, will be the first from the U.K. and, more broadly, the first ever from European soil. However, Virgin Orbit has also announced plans to launch a mission from an airport in Cornwall, England as early as 2022.

The Lockheed mission comes through a grant from the U.K. Space Agency's "Pathfinder Launch" program, with the rocket launching from the isle of Unst in the Shetland Islands.

"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 U.K.," the agency's deputy CEO, Ian Annett, said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin's venture capital arm had previously invested in ABL Space, which is working toward its first launch from California in the first half of 2021. ABL builds small rockets, which by size fit between those built by Elon Musk's SpaceX and small launcher Rocket Lab. ABL had brought in nearly $100 million in venture capital and contract awards prior to the U.K. grant.

ABL's RS1 rocket stands at 88 feet and is designed to send as much as 1,350 kilograms (or nearly 1½ tons) of payload to a low Earth orbit for $12 million per launch. ABL's position in the middle of the commercial launch market places it in competition with other companies such as Richard Branson's Virgin OrbitRelativity Space and Firefly Aerospace.

A fully-integrated RS1 second stage in test firing at Edwards Air Force Base in 2020.
ABL Space
A fully-integrated RS1 second stage in test firing at Edwards Air Force Base in 2020.

The RS1 launch from Scotland will carry a spacecraft built by U.K.-based Moog, which will deploy six small satellites, two of which will be technology demonstrations built by Lockheed Martin.

"We selected ABL Space Systems for the UK Pathfinder Launch to harness the flexibility of ABL's integrated GSO launch system — and RS1 rocket — which will allow us to quickly stand up our new site," Lockheed Martin U.K. Pathfinder Launch program manager Randy DeRosa said in a statement.

"The ABL system is relatively easy, quick and cost-effective to deploy, with fantastic performance, an important capability for many of our future customers," DeRosa added.

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