17 June 2020
The UK Space Agency in partnership with Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and Highland and Island's Enterprise (HIE) put forward a plan to create a launch site for rockets to carry micro-satellites two years ago in Scotland. Their plan to build a vertical launch site on the Melness Crofting Estate on the A’Mhoine peninsula in the Scottish Highlands beat competing bids from other remote Scottish regions for the launch site, which would propel the micro-satellites into low orbit.
However, chiefs at Highland Council said that launches should be limited to 12 per year due to a risk of large amounts of debris falling into the sea after rocket launches.
The council report, released yesterday said that the debris would "impact on marine ecology and pose a collision risk to marine users" and added: "on the basis of 12 launches per year, five tonnes of carbon fibre reinforced plastic and seven tonnes of metal alloy would be dropped into the sea per annum."
Alongside this, following rumours of secret deals and strong-arm tactics, many locals including crofters and farmers opposed the plan.
Billionaire landowner Anders Povlsen along with several wildlife authorities also objected to the plans claiming they could threaten rare wildlife including white-tailed eagles and Great Yellow bumblebees.
Additional concerns were also raised that dozens of acres of rare peat bog would be lost.
It comes after the UK and US governments signed a new agreement last week paving the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology.
The Scotland project, nicknamed the "British Cape Canaveral" will create more than 40 permanent jobs and 400 construction jobs with launches being set for 2021.
Funding for the project will come from Highlands and Islands Enterprise who will contribute £17 million and £23.5 million coming from the UK Space Agency.
An additional £5m will come from Orbex, a British Rocket Company who will develop technology for the site.
Outlining the decision, Highland Council said in planning documents: “The proposed development is a unique and if permitted could be one of the first developments of its kind in Europe.
“However, as with all applications, the benefits of the proposal must be weighed against potential drawbacks and then considered in the round, taking account of the relevant policies of the Development Plan.
“The development has attracted a large number of objections from across the world but also a level of support has been demonstrated.”
Sir Edward Mountain, Tory MSP for Highlands and Islands, welcomed the news and added: “The spaceport is a huge opportunity for the region and will create jobs across the Highlands.”
The UK Space Agency (UKSA), said: "Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets and there is a real opportunity here to capture the growing market for launching an estimated 2,000 small satellites by 2030.
"The proposed spaceport in Sutherland could create 400 jobs across Scotland and contribute to further growth of the UK's world-leading space sector."
Claire Barcham, commercial space director, UKSA, added: “The UK Government’s Spaceflight Programme aims to help establish commercial launch from the UK and help ensure we play a leading role in the New Space Age.”
Other space projects in the UK are also in development in the Shetland Isles and Cornwall.
The commercial space sector is estimated to be worth a potential £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.
Councillors on Highland Council will determine the plans on Friday.