Councillors in the Highland county of Sutherland have approved the building of a new spaceport on peatland on the A’ Mhòine Peninsula near Tongue.
The site will be Scotland’s first proposed satellite launch site and can now proceed with construction and operation. The facility will be the future launch site for space start-up Orbex, which is hoping to develop Britain’s first reusable orbital launch vehicle.
Approval was granted by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the organisation submitted plans in February, including an extensive environmental impact assessment.
The plans were considered on the 26 June by the Highland Council North Planning Applications Committee after a period of public consultation.
It is hoped that the site will create around 177 jobs across Scotland by 2024, and more in the future.
A budget of £17.3 million has been approved by the HIE for the project, with HIE contributing £9.8m. A £2.5m cash injection is also coming from the UK Space Agency with another £5m from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
Commenting on the new facility, Scottish Government Innovation Minister Ivan McKee said: “I very much welcome the decision of the Highland Council to approve the planning application for Space Hub Sutherland, which will support around 250 well-paid jobs in the Highlands and Islands, including 61 in Caithness and Sutherland.
“This is the first of Scotland’s spaceport projects to clear the planning process and it represents a significant step forward for both the project and Scotland’s aspiration to offer the full end to end capability for manufacturing and launching small satellites and analysing their data.
“The space sector has a key role to play in the fight against global climate change and this milestone has been achieved through the hard work of the Sutherland team in partnership with the local community, leading experts and public bodies.”
Graham Turnock, CEO of the UK Space Agency, commented: “Growing our domestic launch capability will bring new jobs and investments to communities in all corners of the UK.
“Space Hub Sutherland is an integral part of these plans and today’s news strengthens our position as Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches.
“The UK government is committed to minimising the environmental impact of spaceflight activities and is developing a National Space Strategy which recognises the unique contribution of satellite technology to our understanding of global issues like climate change.”
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The new port will also be a major success for Scotland’s emerging space sector. Edinburgh based space firm Skyrora recently announced moves create more than 170 new jobs in Scotland with the establishment of a new rocket engine test site.
As well as this, the firm has had recent success launching its Skylark Nano rocket from Shetland. The successful test flight secures Scotland as a major player in space exploration on the world stage.
Director of business growth with HIE, David Oxley, welcomed the council’s decision on the Sutherland spaceport: “The UK’s space ambitions present a wonderful opportunity for the Highlands and Islands,” he said.
“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.”