The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has announced £2.5m grant funding to support a project led by regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) that aims to create the UK’s first spaceport and support around 400 jobs.
Today HIE has confirmed a major funding package for the project totaling £17.3m, including the £2.5m from UKSA and £9.8m from HIE which has been approved in principle by the HIE Board, subject to conditions. While details of the package are still to be confirmed, the enterprise agency expects to attract further contributions from partners that will offset its share of the overall cost.
Over the next 18 months, HIE will prepare a planning application to the Highland Council, which is expected to be submitted late next year.
At the same time, the development agency plans to consult widely with the local community, both to share details of its plans and to invite feedback that will inform the package of community benefits it expects to be delivered.
The funding will enable HIE to develop detailed plans and, subject to planning and other regulations, build a vertical launch site for a new generation of small rockets to launch micro communication and earth-observation satellites at The Moine, on the Melness Crofting Estate near Tongue in north Sutherland.
Once the site is developed, it is expected that the Sutherland site could host up to six launches each year, with the first rocket possibly taking off early next decade.
As well as supporting HIE, the UKSA has also awarded research and development grant funding to two international launch companies that are its partners in the Sutherland project - Lockheed Martin and UK-based early stage spaceflight company, Orbex.
Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and fair Work, Derek Mackay MSP, said: “The development of a small-satellite launch facility at the Moine, Sutherland is a significant first step towards stimulating space sector activity across the whole of Scotland and beyond.
“The significant investment, supported by HIE, and an estimated 400 jobs is a welcome boost to the local community and wider Scottish space sector which we are committed to see grow.
“Scotland is already punching above its weight in the global space sector and with this announcement we stand ready to support the sector as it takes this exciting step forward.
“The Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies are well aware of the opportunities here and will continue to work with all businesses who wish to pursue a future in Scotland’s space sector. Sutherland is only a starting point and we will ensure that its benefits are spread across the country.”
Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE, said: “The establishment of the UK’s first spaceport in the Highlands and Islands is a fantastic opportunity for the region, and for Scotland.
“The international space sector is set to grow very significantly in the coming years, and we want to ensure that our businesses are ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated.
“Establishing this launch site will not only deliver an exceptional local opportunity, with around 40 high quality, skilled jobs being created in a fairly remote and rural part of Sutherland. Crucially, we believe it will act as a driver to stimulate further space-related investment and business activity more widely across the Highlands and Islands and other parts of Scotland. The gross impact of that will mean that around 400 jobs will be supported through the supply chain.
“We’ll be working to develop supply chain opportunities locally and across our region, and to use the spaceport’s presence to attract and encourage further business activity and investment over many years ahead.
“We are also determined that this project will deliver strong community benefits, and our input at this early stage enables us to engage with local people to ensure the presence of the spaceport is a really positive development for this part of Sutherland.”
Sutherland was one of three potential spaceport locations that submitted outline business cases to the Board of HIE earlier this year. The others were in Scolpaig on North Uist, and Unst in Shetland.
All three were assessed by independent consultants with specialist knowledge of the space sector.
Each one met key criteria, including the ability to stage north facing launches over the sea into both polar and sun-synchronous orbit.
However, the business case for Sutherland was stronger overall, including being successfully awarded UKSA funding for its proposals in collaboration with potential launch operators.
“We’re very clear that we want to work with others to ensure the benefits of a spaceport in the Highlands and islands are not confined to Sutherland, but extend well beyond,” said Charlotte Wright.
“A central part of our approach as we develop this project will be to explore opportunities throughout our region.”