Plans to launch small satellites from the Scottish Highlands took a step closer to fruition Wednesday after the Highland Council North Planning Applications Committee granted its final approval for the construction of a “Space Hub” in the northern county of Sutherland.
The Space Hub Sutherland project, put forward by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), consists of control and processing facilities, a single launch complex, and 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) of road to connect them. Located on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, the launch site is 210 kilometers (130 miles) northwest of Aberdeen and 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Glasgow.
The £17.3-million ($22.72 million USD) project is being undertaken by HIE in conjunction with the UK Space Agency and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency – the latter to help offset job losses from the closure of the nearby Dounreay power station. Initial launches will be conducted by British company Orbex Space, although U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has also expressed an interest in using the site.
Sutherland’s location in the far north of Scotland makes it ideal for small rockets launching on northerly trajectories – targeting polar and sun-synchronous orbits. HIE expects this to be a significant market, with the spaceport seeing up to 12 launches per year.
Wednesday’s decision affirms a previous announcement by the Highland Council at the end of June, which had given a provisional go-ahead for construction, subject to the consent of the Scottish Government. On 4 August, the Scottish Parliament confirmed they would not interfere with authorization, paving the way for final planning approval.
With planning permission now secured, construction is on course to begin before the end of the year, and HIE is hopeful that the site could be operational and supporting its first launch as early as 2022.
HIE has partnered with British-based startup Orbex Space, who plan to fly their Orbex Prime rocket from Sutherland. Orbex is one of a number of British companies vying to restore the UK's orbital launch capability. A rival startup, Skyrora, also aims to fly its rocket – Skyrora-XL – to orbit from a launch site in Great Britain by the end of 2023.