Space hub launches Scotland into orbit - David McIntosh

On a clear day the views from Scotland’s most northerly Munro, Ben Hope, across the Flow County of Sutherland are truly spectacular.
David McIntosh, Associate Director, The Scottish Futures TrustDavid McIntosh, Associate Director, The Scottish Futures Trust
David McIntosh, Associate Director, The Scottish Futures Trust

Soon this 3,041ft peak will be the ideal vantage point to watch the first satellites launch from Space Hub Sutherland and witness a major turning point in Scotland’s bourgeoning space story.

Space Hub Sutherland at A’ Mhoine will be sensitively designed 4km west of the crofting settlement of Melness, with important support from the crofting and local communities. The spaceport has been many years in planning and is an important piece of Scotland’s integrated satellite and space industry which is already delivering high-quality scientific and engineering jobs, and career opportunities for young people across Scotland, including in the Highlands.

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As a member of Space Hub Sutherland’s programme board, the Scottish Government Space Group and working as an infrastructure advisor with Scottish Futures Trust, I have been involved in helping develop Scotland’s spaceport infrastructure for a number of years. Seeing our long-term ambition of hosting spaceports become a reality is incredibly exciting.

The A'Mhoine on the Moine Peninsula in the county of Sutherland, the proposed site for the planned spaceport, 'Space Hub Sutherland'. (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)The A'Mhoine on the Moine Peninsula in the county of Sutherland, the proposed site for the planned spaceport, 'Space Hub Sutherland'. (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)
The A'Mhoine on the Moine Peninsula in the county of Sutherland, the proposed site for the planned spaceport, 'Space Hub Sutherland'. (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

Satellite launch capability completes the chain of high-level knowledge and scientific competence which already resides in Scotland across the space sector. The advanced manufacturing expertise for launch, found in companies such as Orbex, a company building low-cost launch vehicles in Forres in Moray, is extremely impressive. Orbex’s vehicles will be powered by bio-propane making them the most environmentally friendly vehicles able to place their satellites into full orbit.

I’m often asked how we can justify space flight in Scotland given our net zero carbon targets?

There are two main aspects for me. Firstly, the journey to net zero will be heavily reliant on the space sector. Scotland’s space industry is about developing and using an array of micro-satellites to enable organisations to have real-time data, providing ‘space-as-a-service’ software. This information can, for example, chart the health of peatlands in the Highlands, monitor the level of carbon in the atmosphere, or support the Internet of Things to use sensor technology to ensure that our cities are cleaner and our energy choices smarter. It is distinctly separate from the adventures of billionaires who wish to send a privileged few into space.

Secondly, Scotland’s space flight story is about our manufacturing capability with Scottish built vehicles providing a unique service for Scottish and European built satellites. It is now widely understood that Scotland is good at making satellites, with companies such as Spire and Clyde Space building world class mini-satellites. What was missing was Scotland’s ability to build and send launch vehicles into space from Scottish soil.

Space Hub Sutherland, occupying just 10 acres, will give Scotland a vital stake in this international industry where other northern nations are competing. The hub is supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government, the UK Space Agency and the Scottish Futures Trust. The key infrastructure is relatively simple.

A launch operations control centre, where up to 12 launches a year will be controlled; a launch pad complex and an integration facility where launch vehicles can be assembled and payloads added. At every stage the environmental impact has been carefully assessed ensuring the natural landscape of wildlife, peaty burns and lochans will be protected.

The site will minimise the potential impacts on ecosystems and avoid disturbance across the sites of special interest. Launch site operators and launch service providers such as Orbex, will have the ability to launch their Scottish manufactured vehicles, perhaps containing Scottish manufactured satellites, from Sutherland.

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It’s an incredible story so far, and as satellite launch starts to become a business-as-usual activity in Scotland, via Space Hub Sutherland and other sites, it will be one that can spark a sense of ambition about a career in space among a new generation of Scots.

David McIntosh, Associate Director, The Scottish Futures Trust

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