Rocket start-up ABL Space to launch first-ever mission from Europe for Lockheed Martin

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The first stage of the company’s RS1 rocket after completing welding.
ABL Space

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

The companies said the launch, planned for 2022, would be the first satellite launch from the UK and, more broadly, the first ever from European soil. The mission comes through a grant from the UK Space Agency’s “Pathfinder Launch” program, with the rocket launching from the Scottish 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 is ABL Space, which is working toward its first launch from California in the first half of this year. ABL builds small rockets, which in size fit between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and small launcher Rocket Lab in the market, with the company having brought in nearly $100 million in venture capital and contract awards prior to the UK grant.

ABL’s RS1 rocket stands at 88 feet tall, and is designed to launch as much as 1,350 kilograms (or nearly 1½ tons) of payload to low Earth orbit – at a price of $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. Virgin Orbit notably also has announced plans to launch a mission from an airport in Cornwall, England as early as 2022.

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

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’s 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.”

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