Blast off: planners give green light to Highland spaceport

Plans to launch satellites into orbit from the northern Highlands of Scotland have been given the green light by the area’s local authority.

The decision means small commercial satellites and launch vehicles designed and manufactured in Scotland could be taking off from Sutherland within the next few years.

Up to 12 rockets, some of which will be used to monitor climate change, will blast off each year from the new spaceport.

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The development, Space Hub Sutherland, is to be built on peatlands owned by Melness Crofters Estate on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, south of Tongue.

Up to 12 rockets could be launched each year from a remote peninsula in the northern Highlands as the Sutherland Space Hub project gets the go-head

It will include a control centre, access road and vertical-launch pad, occupying just over 10 acres of the 740-acre site.

The scheme is expected to create around 250 jobs, including more than 60 in the local area.

Planning permission has now been granted by Highland Council after Scottish ministers opted not to call in the proposals.

Approval is subject to a set of 34 conditions, including measures to ensure safety and protection of the natural environment.

The decision comes after the council received 457 responses objecting to the hub and 118 in support.

Local development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has approved a budget of £17.3 million to develop the facility, including funding of £5 million from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and £2.5 million from the UK Space Agency.

Spaceports are also planned in other parts of Scotland, including Unst in Shetland.

Scotland’s minister for innovation Ivan McKee has welcomed Highland Council’s decision.

Ivan McKee said: “This is the first of Scotland’s spaceport projects to clear the planning process and it represents a significant step forward for both the project and Scotland’s aspiration to offer the full end-to-end capability for manufacturing and launching small satellites and analysing their data.

“The space sector has a key role to play in the fight against global climate change and this milestone has been achieved through the hard work of the Sutherland team in partnership with the local community, leading experts and public bodies.”

David Oxley, director of business growth with HIE, added: “The UK’s space ambitions present a wonderful opportunity for the Highlands and Islands.

“A vertical-launch spaceport is a key piece of the national jigsaw, along with the design and manufacture of satellites and launch vehicles, that will ensure Scotland can derive maximum economic benefits from this growing and exciting sector.

“Another important aspect is the role that satellites launched from Sutherland will play in gathering data that will help people around the world to understand and address the impacts of climate change.

“In developing our plans, we have always been very mindful of the environmental challenges presented by a project of this kind.

“Part of our ambition is to create the world’s most low-carbon space centre and the conditions applied to the planning approval will help us make that a reality.

“When all these factors are put together, that makes today’s decision a good result, not just for the economy but for the environment as well.”

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