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Spaceport planning application delayed due to ‘design changes’

The community of Talmine on the Kyle of Tongue and close to the site of the new spaceport on A'Moine in Sutherland.
The community of Talmine on the Kyle of Tongue and close to the site of the new spaceport on A'Moine in Sutherland.

Plans to build the UK’s first vertical-launching spaceport in the Highlands have been delayed so that changes can be made to its design.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has confirmed that an application for planning permission will not be lodged later this month, as was previously intended.

Instead, the development agency now expects to submit its proposals for the £17.3million scheme in Sutherland to Highland Council “early in the new year”.

The delay will enable the developers to “make some design changes”, following feedback received during the consultation process, which recently concluded after a series of events in Caithness and Sutherland.

The alterations are understood to relate to the “visual impact of the launch site”, as well as the internal road layout for the development near Tongue.

HIE and its backers hope that the first satellites will be launched from the site at the Melness Crofting Estate in the early 2020s.

Construction was pencilled in to begin next year, and was expected to last around 18 months.

However, the Press and Journal reported in October that HIE board members were told in August that there was “very little slippage time within the programme to deliver it on time”.

Funding options for the scheme are still to be finalised, with an Audit Scotland report recently stating that “the costs of the project are increasing, and it is not yet clear how these will be funded”.

HIE has confirmed that an update on the business case for the spaceport is due to be presented to its board later this month.

At that meeting, board members will decide whether to make a decision on approving the plans then, or whether to delay a decision until a later date if further information is required.

Meanwhile, it emerged this week that Forres-based spaceflight company Orbex, which intends to launch its rockets from the Sutherland site, hopes to establish a test facility at the Kinloss Barracks site in Moray to support the operations.

Procedures would include the filling and draining of fuel and pressure vessels and testing the impact of temperature changes on them.

Orbex plans to build rockets at its Forres base to be launched from the Sutherland spaceport to take small satellites into orbit.

The company has also revealed the Enterprise Park site would be used for its mission control activities, allowing personnel to monitor live data from the launch.

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