Sutherland spaceport: The story so far

2nd Apr 2020
Sutherland spaceport

The UK is one of the leaders in the production of small satellites but does not have a single facility to launch them. The British space program, implemented by the UK Space Agency, came up with a draft containing several launch sites across the country – to be built within the next two years. One of them, Sutherland Spaceport, could be built on the A ‘Mhòine Peninsula in the Highlands of Scotland and claims it will be the first UK Spaceport.

Geographic Features

The peninsula of A ‘Mhòine in Sutherland was not chosen by chance. For the construction of Sutherland spaceport, there were essential requirements that the location fully satisfies:

  • Maximum distance from residential areas: the closest habitants to the Sutherland spaceport are in the village of Talmine with a population of 200 people;
  • This location is ideal for launching small satellites into polar and solar-synchronous orbits.

Who Will Use The Sutherland Spaceport

So far, the spaceport will be used by Rocket Lab and Orbex to launch Electron and Prime rockets, although Rocket Lab have yet to confirm this. Both use different types of fuel so separate launch pads would need be built for their launches or some form of mobile operation for launch, fueling etc.. The aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which is actively operating in European markets, in particular the British one, are specifically mentioned in the plans and they have a strategic investment in Rocket Lab, but they have also been very quiet. The British government has already allocated several million pounds in grants to both Orbex and Lockheed Martin.

Who Is Against The Project

When the project was first officially talked about at the Farnborough International Airshow in 2018, local crofters were not very happy about the news. However, the HIE Development Agency, which was tasked with running the facility, slowly secured some support, offering favorable conditions for cooperation.

Later, the Melness Crofters Estate company held a vote, where they won a small majority in favor of the construction of a spaceport. Intensive preparations are underway for development, but environmentalists continue to oppose the Sutherland spaceport actively. The area of the planned spaceport is full of peat bogs that accumulate carbon dioxide, which is necessary for the planet’s health in the long term. Environmentalists believe that private missile launches can harm the local ecosystem. However, HIE claims that Sutherland spaceport will not create any danger, but the economic effect of it will be significant.

The Sutherland spaceport could provide up to 450 jobs remotely and directly at the facility and will be able to bring millions of pounds to the UK budget according to HIE. The commissioning of the facility is planned no later than the end of 2021.

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