Sovereign launch: what is it, and what will it mean for the UK?

A rendered image of Skyrora XL blast-off. The rocket is just 22 metres high and will be powered by 3D printed engines
Image Credit: Skyrora

What is ‘sovereign launch’?

'Sovereign launch capability' refers to the ability of a country to launch its own satellites into space independently without relying on foreign countries. The United Kingdom has previously launched successful aircraft built in-house from foreign soil, with Black Arrow reaching orbit from Woomera, Australia in 1971. However, there has never before been consistent orbital launches from the UK. With the advent of new technology, the UK is pursuing its own launch capabilities, which are expected to have a significant impact on the country’s economic, military, and space exploration efforts. 

Why is sovereign launch so important?

Economic Growth

One of the primary benefits of space launch from the UK is economic growth. Through the independent launch of our own satellites, the UK will reduce dependence on other countries for space-related services. This leads to the creation of new UK space industry jobs as the country increases investment into research and development, manufacturing, and satellite launch. The UK’s space industry is already one of the largest in Europe with a value of around £14 billion, and the development of a sovereign launch capability will further increase this growth.

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National Security

Sovereign UK space launch also has important implications for national security. By launching its own satellites, the UK will have greater control over its own space technology, which will improve its ability to monitor and protect our assets. Satellite technology is hugely important for communication and navigation, and sovereign UK space launch will ensure our access to these critical services even in the event of conflict or disruption.

Space Exploration Efforts

Beyond economic and security implications, sovereign UK space launch will positively impact the UK’s success in space exploration. With the ability to launch our own satellites, the UK will be able to better control and coordinate its space missions, allowing it to participate in international space initiatives and contribute to scientific research and discovery. Further, with control over our own space assets, the UK will control the timing, trajectory, and altitude of its satellites. This ability increases our scope to develop new space technologies and ultimately become a global industry leader. By establishing itself as a leader in the space industry, the UK will increase its standing and influence among others in the space community.

Image Credit: NASA on Unsplash

What is the UK doing to establish sovereign launch?

The UK Government has provided significant funding to the country’s space efforts, a crucial part of this being the development of new spaceports. The UK has previously lacked a dedicated space launch site, which has hindered its ability to launch satellites and participate in space missions. The development of spaceports such as Saxavord based in Shetland, Scotland, provides the UK with the necessary infrastructure to support UK space launch and create further opportunities for the commercial launch of satellites by other countries. Skyrora is delighted to have signed a multi-launch deal with Saxavord Spaceport, further bolstering the UK’s sovereign launch opportunities.

Several government agencies exist which have supported the development of sovereign UK space launch. The UK Space Agency coordinates all space activity in the UK, ensuring the continual growth of the UK space industry by providing funding and support to a range of space-related projects and initiatives.

The UK further benefits from collaboration with other countries and organisations in building our capabilities in space. As a member of the European Space Agency, the UK participates in joint projects with other countries to develop pioneering space technologies. Skyrora benefits from our involvement with the ESA Boost! Programme, providing funding for the significant milestones we have achieved in the past few years. 

Skyrora’s milestones in contribution to the UK's sovereign launch capabilities

Second stage fire test of Skyrora XL
Image Credit: Skyrora

Skyrora is leading the way in the pursuit of sovereign UK space launch. Skyrora is focused on developing a cost-effective and sustainable solution to satellite launch and is working to provide the UK with autonomous vertical launch.

Our main orbital vehicle, Skyrora XL, is designed to be highly reliable, meeting the growing demand for satellite launch from the UK. Our approach is centered around sustainability, using our in-house 3D printers to manufacture engine components, as well as offering solutions to orbital debris through our space tug. This reduces launch costs and makes space access more accessible to UK-based companies.

Skyrora XL is being developed at our sites in Scotland and is set to be both tested and launched from these shores. This enables the UK’s self-sufficiency in the development and deployment of satellites. Ultimately, the milestones that Skyrora’s talented team has achieved are leading the UK towards becoming a leader in the space industry.

These milestones include the successful testing of engines and even entire stages of the XL rocket, and the completion of our Scotland-based test site and engineering facility, the largest of their kind in the UK. We are also glad to work in partnership with universities across the country, providing support and sponsorship for launch projects as well as visits from stakeholders across the industry to encourage a collaborative approach to the UK’s journey to sovereign launch. 

Skyrora XL on the launch pad, a cloudy sky is in the foreground
Image Credit: Skyrora

Ultimately, the UK’s plans for establishing a sovereign launch capability will have a significant impact on the country’s economy, national security and space exploration efforts. By launching its own satellites and investing in new spaceports, the UK will reduce its dependence on other countries for space-related services, creating new UK space industry jobs and improving national security. The development of a sovereign UK space launch will be a major driver of growth and innovation in the UK’s space industry, with Skyrora leading the way to a sustainable future in UK launch.


Balm, J.C. (2022) The strategic edge of sovereign space launch, Feature from King's College London. Available at: (Accessed: February 10, 2023).

National space strategy (2022) GOV.UK. Available at: (Accessed: February 10, 2023).

Newman, C. (no date) Rediscovering UK sovereign launch capability - room: The space journal, Room The Space Journal of Asgardia. Available at: (Accessed: February 10, 2023).

Sovereign launch strategy (no date) SPACE & DEFENSE. Available at: (Accessed: February 10, 2023).