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Environmental Impacts of Sutherland Space Hub to be Assessed

Sinead Donnelly

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The Sutherland space hub is expected to be a key component of Scotland’s expanding space sector, with 40 high-quality jobs expected to be created locally.

Plans for Space Hub Sutherland are currently underway at the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) with vertical launches of small satellites expected to begin early in the next decade. The launches will take place from the A’Mhoine peninsula, near Tongue.

The project has attracted support from the UK Space Agency, which is also funding Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Orbex, two launch companies that plan to set up in Sutherland.

Space Hub Sutherland is expected to be a key component of Scotland’s growing space sector, with 40 high-quality jobs expected to be created locally, part of more than 400 across the wider Highlands and Islands.

Europe’s leading private launch services company, Orbex, has already opened a new manufacturing facility in Forres.

The potential launch site at A’Mhoine is located next to the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation, and the Ben Hutig Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The outcome of a future planning application to the Highland Council for design and construction of the space hub will be dependent on the understanding of the environmental impacts of satellite launches, as well as the economic benefits.

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The proposed application is currently being prepared by HIE and an extensive round of public consultation will be carried out so that locals have opportunities to examine the plans and pose questions to the developer.

In order to determine the environmental impacts of the space hub, HIE is now consulting the Highland Council, statutory consultees Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Historic Environment Scotland, as well as a wide range of other interested parties.

In accordance with the EU’s environmental impact assessment directive, HIE is proposing to examine potential impacts on the local area, specific habitats and the marine environment.

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex said that he is enthusiastic about the environmental impact studies planned for the proposed spaceport in Sutherland.

“It is very positive to see the first scoping documents for the launch site at Sutherland Spacehub, representing the work of dozens of people and numerous industry and environmental experts over the past years to examine the challenge of taking Britain back into space.

He explained that the documents are a “giant step towards a formal planning application.”

“It’s a very detailed and careful alignment between the project and planning stakeholders on what aspects might have environmental or other impacts. However, it is very important to note that there is still a lot of design work and refinement ongoing to finalize requirements to ensure minimal impact.

“Larmour added: “Orbex is committed to operating the A’Mhoine site in a compatible and “green” manner, and will be using a site-compatible small launch vehicle with an ultra-low carbon bio-propane fuel.

“We are already investing strongly in the Highlands region at Forres, and we will be making some more announcements about developments at other locations in due course.”

Space Hub Sutherland Project Director with HIE, Roy Kirk said: “As our plans develop, it is absolutely vital that we gain a thorough understanding of the potential environmental impacts that a launch facility could have, including around the location of the site itself.”

Kirk explained that HIE has also been conducting bird studies over the past year which has resulted in the collection of “robust data”.

“The new proposal will help us scope out the full range of environmental issues that we need to examine and that will inform the development of the project as we head towards a future planning application,” he said.

“For the purpose of the scoping exercise, we’ve used figures that range from current expectations to the absolute extreme end of any potential activity that could take place there. This will make sure that environmental assessments are as robust as possible, by being based on maximum possible impacts.”

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Sinead Donnelly

Journalist

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