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Organisations show ‘considerable interest’ in £17m Sutherland spaceport plan

Notional image of the UK's first commercial spaceport at the Sutherland Site in Melness, Scotland.
Notional image of the UK's first commercial spaceport at the Sutherland Site in Melness, Scotland.

There has been “considerable interest” shown by organisations wishing to be involved with a proposed spaceport in Sutherland.

Plans for the £17.3million vertical rocket launch site based in Sutherland were unveiled earlier this year.

Government agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who are backing the proposal, recently published a “Prior Information Notice (PIN)” in the Official Journal of the European Union and Public Contracts Scotland.

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The aim is to “gauge market interest in a potential future contract opportunity”.

They are keen to hear from firms with an interest in designing, building and operating the spaceport, which will launch small rockets carrying micro satellites.

Sutherland spaceport could create 400 jobs and reverse population decline

It is not a tender process, but the responses will be used to inform how best to proceed with the procurement.

The closing date for parties to complete responses is noon today.

A spokesman for HIE said there had been “considerable interest” already expressed, but was unable to provide specific numbers prior to all responses being submitted.

The agency hope plans for the project will be lodged next
year following consultation with various organisations, including Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland.

If built on schedule, HIE said the site could be operating by 2020/21 and become the first orbital space launch facility in continental Europe.

The project has been part-funded by the UK Space Agency with £2.5million and £9.8million from HIE.

Companies Orbital Express and Lockheed Martin plan to service the satellite launches.

If the ambitious spaceport finally lifts off, a site known as the A’Mhoine peninsula near Tongue, has been identified.

The 46 members of the Melness Crofters Estate, which owns the land, voted in favour to work with HIE towards agreeing heads of terms. They could earn around £70,000 a year to lease the land, plus a fee for each rocket launch.

HIE believe the project could create 40 jobs locally, with project director Roy Kirk saying: “The creation of a satellite launch centre in Scotland is a unique and exciting project.

“We firmly believe that the spaceport will open up a host of new opportunities for businesses that want to become involved in the growing space sector.

“As part of our next steps, we’ll be stepping up our communications and making sure local people know what the spaceport is likely to mean for them.”

The project has been met with local opposition by residents who fear the impact on the environment, archaeology, roads, the potential risk to the public, and noise.

John Williams, chairman of the Protect-the-Mhoine group, said yesterday: “We think that the certain drawbacks far exceed the possible benefits of launching from here.

“For us one launch from the Mhoine would be one too many.

“We think Unst is a far better location from which to reach low polar and sun-synchronous orbits.”

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