Landowners in Sutherland were celebrating yesterday after agreeing a 75-year lease with the developers of an ambitious project to deliver the UK’s first dedicated spaceport to the Moine Peninsula.
Crofters met with the projects developers, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and an agreement was put in place for the enterprise agency to take over occupancy of the land once planning consent is granted.
The land is currently owned by the Melness Crofters Estate (MCE).
Designs for the futuristic spaceport are currently being drawn together by architectural firm Norr Consultants.
Construction of the project is anticipated to begin next year with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) providing a grant of £2.5million to HIE, as well as funding two launch companies who will use the facility once it is operational.
HIE’s project director Roy Kirk praised the ‘constructive dialogue’ of the Melness Crofters, adding: “Space Hub Sutherland development is expected to generate many social and economic benefits for different parts of the region.”
It is hoped that from the early 2020s small rockets with satellites could be launched each year from the base at The Moine.
Estimates anticipate the number of launches to be around 40 per year, according to official documents put before planners.
Dorothy Pritchard, chairwoman of the MCE, said: “We know there is a long way to go and that the next step is to go through to the planning stage.
“Like everyone else, we want to make sure the environmental and safety aspects of the proposed development are thoroughly examined and fully addressed as part of the process.”
Claire Barcham, commercial space director at UKSA, added: “The agreement of the Spaceport Sutherland lease hold option is an important milestone and brings us one step closer to realising this ambition.”
HIE says the £17.5million development is the “huge boost” required in the area to replace the high-quality jobs being lost as the nuclear plant at Dounreay is run down for decommissioning.
Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex, who have recently opened their headquarters and a rocket factory in Moray, said: “Orbex’s interactions with the local community in Tongue, Talmine and Melness have been overwhelmingly positive and we’re pleased that this strong, long term agreement is now in place.
“We expect to have many locals working directly on the space launch programme as colleagues.”
Local MSP Gail Ross said she was “delighted” that a lease option had been agreed, adding that she would “ensure that any concerns from the community are addressed during the planning process”.
The development is expected to create 40 jobs locally by 2023, with a further 400 estimated to come throughout the Highlands and Moray as a result of the spaceport’s creation.