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Western Isles spaceport firm could face ‘review’ over Russia links

Early image showing North Uist spaceport proposal
Early image showing North Uist spaceport proposal

Plans to build a rocket-launching spaceport in the Outer Hebrides could be dealt a blow over links to Russia, we can reveal.

Western Isles Council has signalled it may need to order a “review” of its partnership with consultancy firm Commercial Space Technologies (CST) Ltd, depending on future government advice.

The firm is registered in the UK but has long-standing connections with Russia.

Scottish ministers urged businesses on Thursday to cut their ties to Russia amid international outrage at Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

CST said it had sought advice from the UK Government’s department of international trade.

The company is involved in a consortium which is driving the Spaceport 1 project at North Uist.

North Uist

It is working alongside the local authority, also known as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and defence firm QinetiQ.

The original plans attracted a flood of objections, but have since been scaled back.

CST, established in 1983, has said it is based in the UK and describes itself as a private company funded entirely from commercial activity.

Moscow office

However, it has an office in Moscow, as well as London, with a “native Russian speaking staff”, and one of its four directors is a Russian national.

Two of the four directors of an associated firm, Commercial Space Technologies (Services) Ltd, are listed on Companies House as Russian nationals based in Russia.

The company’s website states that it has a “friendly working relationship with all Russian launch providers”, and that it “successfully trades in high technology products to and from the Russian Federation”.

Fireworks explode over the Kremlin during 2020 New Year’s celebrations in in Moscow, Russia.

A spokesman for Western Isles Council said: “Commercial Space Technologies Ltd is a UK based company with its main office in London.

“Like thousands of other companies, they have offices in Moscow.

“They provide specialist advice as part of the spaceport consortium, and are a private company funded entirely from commercial activity, with customers across various countries including Ukraine.”

‘Future partnerships are subject to review’

However, he added: “Any future partnership arrangements will be subject to review at the appropriate time and would reflect decisions from government.”

CST director Alan Webb said it was a small, UK-based consultancy company, with a main office in London and a representative office in Moscow.

“We are a private company funded entirely from commercial activity, with customers across various countries, including Ukraine,” he said.

“We provide specialist advice as part of the spaceport consortium and to UK Government departments on matters relating to the space sector and launch activity.

General view of North Uist

“The status of our Moscow-based office as ‘representative’ means it is unable to take payments.

“Furthermore, in our 40 years of activity we have never received payment from the Russian government, or any Russian entities.

“As an exclusively commercial company, all of our income has been through international (primarily Western) customers, some of whom we have brokered launch services or trade deals for in Russia.”

Mr Webb added: “Like thousands of other Western companies doing business in Russia, we have had to work within the rules set by both sides.

“As a consequence, we have sought advice from the Department for International Trade and we are complying with their advice with regard to the current situation.”

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