When the UK government passed the Space Industry Act 2018 with the view to creating a new Space industry in the country, the UK Space Agency had started the process of seeking tenders for the vertical launch facilities, which were eventually won by Lockheed Martin, Orbex Space & Elecnor Deimos. Who have now since secured a site in Scotland from where to launch, using funds from the UKSA to take it through the design and planning stages.
Internal emails released as part of a Freedom of Information request have revealed that discussions between various parties involved, did mention that a potential site in Shetland may be even more suitable, however Orbex, Lockheed & Highlands and Islands Enterprise proceeded with the Sutherland location.
Both the Sutherland spaceport location and another in the Western Isles have come up against concerns over potentially negative environmental issues. With Sutherland being in the middle of a peat bog and also home to some quite rare birds, it has attracted some opposition from the likes of RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and protest group Extinction Rebellion.
Only last week, another barrier appeared to further delay progress at Sutherland, with the Civil Aviation Authority rejecting HIE’s “Change of Air Space” application for the site.
It now looks likely that the CAA will grant or reject any “Change of Air Space” requests on a launch by launch basis. Given the six to eight week turnaround of such an application, that would allow the launch pad to perform a maximum of 6 launches per year.
In a previous article (UK Space Ambitions: 100 year wait until Sutherland spaceport sees a return), we examined the financial case for the Sutherland launch site and came to a sensible conclusion that it could take up to 100 years for the launch site to break even based on 10 launches per year. So, with the limitation of only six launch per year, it would appear the financial case is even weaker than originally thought.
Hopefully the Sutherland spaceport’s fortunes change soon and they manage to get a permanent solution from CAA as well as satisfy the concerns of the environmentalists.