One small step for Sutherland spaceport

PLANS to launch rockets into space from the Highlands have taken “one small step” forward after The Highland Council granted planning permission.

Economic development agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) has been given the green light by councillors to build a “vertical launch spaceport” in Sutherland.

Scottish ministers will now have their say on the proposals.

The multi-million pound project aims to send small commercial satellites into orbit within the next few years.

HIE wants to build its “Space Hub Sutherland” on peatland next to the A838 road on the Melness crofters’ estate on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, around six miles from Tongue.

Back in 2018, HIE’s board backed a budget of £17.3 million for the project, including contributions of £2.5 million from the UK Space Agency and £5 million from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

An economic impact assessment commissioned by the agency concluded that developing the spaceport could support around 250 high-quality jobs in the Highlands and islands, including 61 in Sutherland and Caithness, with 44 of them on the site itself.

HIE’s launch partner, Orbex, has already opened a design and manufacturing facility in Forres as a base to make the “Prime” vehicle that it plans to assemble and put into orbit from Sutherland.

David Oxley, director of business growth at HIE, said: “The UK’s space ambitions present a wonderful opportunity for the Highlands and islands.

“A vertical launch spaceport is a key piece of the national jigsaw, along with the design and manufacture of satellites and launch vehicles, that will ensure Scotland can derive maximum economic benefits from this growing and exciting sector.”

Oxley added: “We are very aware of the environmental challenges presented by a project of this kind, particularly in such wild and unspoilt area as A’ Mhòine.

“We have been diligent in carrying out survey work to understand and mitigate all potential impacts, including a restoration plan that will see all of the peat that is dug out during construction retained on site and used to repair areas that were degraded by past digging.

“Part of our ambition is to create the world’s most low-carbon space centre and the conditions applied to the planning approval will help us make that a reality.”

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