The boss of Scottish aerospace company Orbex has said he “probably” wouldn’t want a spaceport in his back yard following objections to such a facility, including from billionaire landowner Anders Holch Povlsen.
Chris Larmour, Forres-based Orbex’s chief executive, was speaking during a space industry video conference.
Outlining the company’s ambitions to launch satellite-bearing rockets from a spaceport on the A’Mhoine peninsula, near Tongue, in Sutherland, Mr Larmour said plans for the site put forward by Highlands and Islands Enterprise had encountered some resistance.
“It’s a very remote part of Britain but it has strong support, I would say, from local people,” Mr Larmour said, adding: “There are some quite vociferous people who don’t want it (the spaceport) to happen.
“But they’re very much in the minority locally, and the vast majority of people there do support the project.
“I’ve already seen jobs coming from Orbex in particular into that local region to bring economic development, which is the purpose of it.”
Those opposed to the £17.3 million spaceport – approved by Highland councillors last August – include Mr Povlsen, Scotland’s biggest landowner, who lodged a petition for a judicial review of the decision in favour of the proposed development.
A Court of Session hearing is scheduled to take place over three days from June 8.
Mr Povlsen owns the international clothing chain Bestseller and is also the biggest single shareholder in online retailer Asos. The Dane’s 222,000-plus acres of Scotland include a large swathe of Sutherland.
A company controlled by him, Wild Ventures, has invested £1.43m in a rival space project in Shetland.
In the video conference, published on space-focused website Orbital Today, Orbex’s CEO referred to “some legal hurdles” in the way of the spaceport, which has the backing of the UK Space Agency and is expected to create 200 jobs.
Mr Larmour said: “There’s a nearby neighbour, a very rich man who is not a big fan of the project and is putting it under legal scrutiny, which is fair enough.
“I think we’ll get through those hurdles in the next few months and will move into construction towards the end of the year and, hopefully, we’ll see this spaceport in operation by around mid-22.”
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He added: “There aren’t that many places in Europe where you can actually build one of these facilities.
“Finding the right balance of availability and safety, and range and acceptability to the local population is quite a tricky thing.
“For Spaceport Sutherland, it’s in the back yard of some people – and some people don’t like that, and fair enough, you know, I wouldn’t probably either.”
There are some quite vociferous people who don’t want it to happen.”
Chris Larmour, Orbex
Likening the project to a new airport getting built, Mr Larmour said: “Somebody is going to be upset because that airport is beside their house.
“But that airport serves a much bigger region and a much bigger population than just those five or six people.
“And that’s the case we’ve been making to the broader population around that area (A’Mhoine).”
Orbex has been building a micro launcher to take small payloads into low Earth orbit since January 2016.
Plans for a new rocket factory unveiled by the firm late last year are expected to create up to 300 jobs in Forres.
Click here to see the whole space industry video.