Sutherland Spaceport and Cornwall Spaceport facing an unsure future as financial difficulties arise

23rd Nov 2020

In recent weeks there have been some rumblings that the Cornwall Spaceport project is on the verge of potential closure as the Cornwall Newquay Airport faces full shutdown as a result of Covid-19, leaving the project without a home.

Newquay Airport has suffered a huge financial setback as passenger numbers and flights dwindled to an all time low, making the facility no longer financially viable.

The closure of the airport would of course put the Cornwall Spaceport plans at risk of being cancelled – or at best postponed, leaving Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit without a place to call home.

However, an even more concerning situation is emerging in the north of Scotland, as the proposed Sutherland Spaceport appears to have problems of its own. The spaceport consortium have been asked to produce a business plan to show the viability of the project and potentially to secure its funding.

Firstly, it comes as quite a major concern that at this stage the consortium are being asked for a business plan – which suggests that they were previously awarded government funding without one, or without demonstrating the viability of the project. Although recent revelations about irresponsible government spending on PPE equipment during the Covid19 pandemic have pretty much guaranteed that ANY money handed out is likely to have avoided normal due diligence processes or scrutiny.

Orbex in financial difficulty

Recently, we revealed the financial shortcomings of the Sutherland project, as the sole launch company, Orbital Express Launch Ltd. (Orbex) operating at the base were forced to borrow £670,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to continue operations. The company, based in Denmark and Germany, were faced with further difficulties when the planning permission for the site was awarded with around 30 conditions attached, including limiting launches to 12 per year – severely limiting revenue generating opportunities.

Lockheed Martin Jump Ship

Further problems were faced by the Sutherland Spaceport as its launch partner, Lockheed Martin, jumped ship and shifted its allegiance to the competing launch site on the Shetland Isles. The Shetland Space Centre had long mentioned that they had some sort of understanding in place with Lockheed Martin, but stopped short of revealing any further detail. However, recently the move to Shetland Space Centre was revealed on the UK Government website.

Shetland Space Centre – the only game in town?

The unstable situation with both Cornwall Spaceport and Sutherland Spaceport could leave the Shetland Space Centre as the only game in town just now. Despite they themselves courting some controversy, their problems have been absolute minimum in comparison to those at Sutherland Spaceport.

And now that Shetland have attracted Lockheed Martin & Orbex are left standing solo on the Sutherland project, with ongoing objections & legal challenges heading their way from Anders Povlsen as well as the strong campaign launched by environmental protest group, Extinction Rebellion, we suspect Sutherland’s woes are not only financial, but also reputational – making it a risky and less attractive proposition.

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