The prospect of launching rockets from Scotland just took a step closer this week as Highlands and Islands Enterprise submitted a planning application for the proposed vertical launch site at A’Mhoine in Sutherland.
The submission consisted of 95 documents and contained several variations from their original design to take into account feedback gathered during their public consultation process. The proposed floodlights, for example, were changed so that they can be retracted when not in use.
The new submission also included mention of Otters and Water Voles within the planned space port footprint, which was something not previously highlighted in earlier documents.
The space port planning application represents a significant milestone in the UK’s ambitions to launch a new space industry and will be met with considerable applause amongst the companies that are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to launch.
The proposed Sutherland space port has not been without controversy as there have been some significant objections based on environmental concerns leading to written submissions and objections from RSPB, WWF and local protest group, Protect The Mhoine. The site is in the middle of one of Scotland’s largest peatlands, which raised concerns about potential fire risks as well as the potential impact on the region’s carbon capture capabilities.
The current planning application for the Sutherland space port includes detailed 3D graphics showing exactly what the launch site will look like.
Work is expected to start later in 2020, should the planning application get approved. Initial launches are scheduled for 2022, with up to 12 launches per year planned for the site.
The application also clearly states that HIE will put a Launch Site Operator in place to manage the site. It also mentions in the application that there will be multiple Launch Services providers using the site, although Orbex and Lockheed Martin are the only two operators mentioned within the application.
It’s not clear from the plans whether the site design would be suitable for other launch providers as, firstly, there is only one launch pad and the site will potentially only accommodate up to 12 launches per year. Also, as launch providers use different fuelling systems, this would require a different setup, unless of course other launch providers were able to use mobile fuelling systems that could be brought on site.