The two military bases in Moray are battling each other in the race to host the UK’s first spaceport.
RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks were both named yesterday on a shortlist of possible sites where rockets, satellites and even tourists could be launched into orbit.
The announcement has delighted local politicians and business chiefs – and puts the region in pole position to cash-in on the “truly astronomical” £400billion global space market.
A total of eight areas of the UK were named as potential locations for the facility, which ministers hope to see opened within four years.
The Press and Journal exclusively revealed on Saturday that the UK Government was poised to make the announcement – and that Moray and other Scottish sites would figure.
Six of the eight shortlisted locations are in Scotland, with Stornoway Airport also featuring, as well as Campbeltown, Prestwick and Leuchars.
Announcing the plans, Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill said: “We’re at the dawn of nothing less than a second space revolution.”
The Westminster government appointed a working group to draw up detailed plans for the spaceport in April.
The Civil Aviation Authority was asked to devise criteria for the host site – and stipulated the need for a long runway, seclusion from large population centres and favourable weather.
Experts have long described Moray as the “obvious” location for the port because of the runways at the two bases, the proximity to the coast, and a relatively clear path north over the sea.
RAF Lossiemouth was previously earmarked as a preferred location for a spaceport.
The base was also viewed by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company as a potential launch site for space tourism. The firm is due to start launching from New Mexico but also wants a base in Europe, and UK ministers hope it will choose here over another site in northern Sweden.
However, potentially more lucrative for Moray would be the ability to launch smaller-scale satellites for business and academic purposes.
Moray Council leader Allan Wright said he believed Kinloss was the front-runner of the two bases.
He said: “They would both be great choices. However, the suggestion is that the final site would have to be ‘dedicated’ to functioning as a spaceport.
“RAF Lossiemouth has just recently assumed the role of providing the Quick Reaction Alert Force to intercept unidentified aircraft approaching UK airspace. This could pose difficulties at times with the use of the runway.
“For that reason I would imagine that the former RAF base at Kinloss might be the favoured option.
“But, either way, the important thing, is that it should come to Moray. It would be a huge boost to the economy.”
Councillor Sean Morton said: “For Moray to have two contenders out of only eight nationwide is phenomenal.
“The benefits of this UK Government-backed project would be truly astronomical.”
James Johnston, vice-chairman of the Moray Economic Partnership, was also delighted.
“With our fabulous weather factor, uncongested airspace and the availability of a skilled ‘aviation-savvy’ workforce, Moray is ideally situated to host the UK’s first spaceport,” he said.
Angus Robertson, SNP MP for Moray, said: “Developing a spaceport at Kinloss would be a massive catalyst to technology industry investment in the region and a major tourist attraction as many people would undoubtedly flock to the area to see the modern spacecraft that would be launched here.”
After a period of consultation, further work will be done to develop the locations remaining on the shortlist.
Views of local people and other interested parties will be sought before any final decisions are taken.