History of Sutherland Spaceport Project

3rd Feb 2021

The UK is one of the leading countries in the world, not only economically and socially, but also when it comes to space exploration. Today, over a third of the world’s small satellites are produced in Scotland. At the same time, the UK cannot offer a full cycle of space services as there are currently no spaceports situated in the UK. Sutherland Spaceport could become the first UK facility for suborbital and orbital launches. The site is to be constructed on the peninsula of A ‘Mhòine, in County Sutherland, Scotland.

Scottish Spaceport Construction Plans and Ambitions

The official name of this project is UKVL Sutherland. It was first introduced to the public at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show. Development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the UK Space Agency, as well as private aerospace companies such as Orbex Space and Lockheed Martin were working on this project together, although Lockheed Martin has since parted company with Orbex. 

It was initially thought that this Scottish spaceport would launch the ultralight rockets Electron, by American company RocketLab and a new rocket called Prime, which is an invention of Orbex Space. Originally, two companies were planned to be based in the facility, so two launching platforms were to be built. However, the final planning application was for just one launch pad and Lockheed Martin were soon departing from the project. 

From the First Investment in 2018 to Beginning of Construction

According to preliminary estimates, the project will cost around £30 million. The UK Space Agency acted as its first investor, allocating £3 million in July 2018, not long after the agency officially announced that the British government supports the creation of a vertical rocket launch site in Sutherland.

Leasing a suitable land area for the next 75 years was an important stage of this project. HIE signed the necessary agreement in early August 2019. HIE also signed a contract with the architectural firm, NORR Consultants. This company will design Scottish spaceport facilities, including a launch control centre, assembly building and integration hub.

Mass Protests Against the Construction of the Spaceport

On September 4, 2019, HIE held the public consultations, after which a scandal erupted. Environmentalists headed up by Extinction Rebellion Scotland are actively opposing the Scottish spaceport construction. The ground for their protest is a claim that rocket launches can negatively impact local ecology. Highlands Council has received over 400 objections against the spaceport construction

The beginning of the construction, due to the ongoing pandemic, had to be postponed. Multiple complaints about the lack of environmental impact assessment forced the Council to investigate the construction area. The investigation then confirmed the project’s environmental safety.

This new Scottish spaceport will create 60 new job opportunities on-site and 250 more remote positions. The spaceport has great prospects as it has the potential to become the primary hub for the UK space industry. 

The first rocket launches from Sutherland are scheduled for early 2021. In the long run, up to 12 satellites should launch from the Scottish spaceport every year. 

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