Highland spaceport to gather climate change data

Local council approve plans for satellite launch site

Credit: Peter Aikman/CC BY-SA 2.0

Plans for a satellite launch site in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands have taken a step forward after the project received planning approval from the local authority.

Highland Council approved plans from Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for the Space Hub Sutherland, a vertical launch port, to be built on an area of peatland next to the A838 on the Melness Crofters Estate on the A’ Mhòine peninsula.

HIE – an economic-development agency of the Scottish Government – said satellites launched from the site would be used for Earth observation, including gathering data to monitor and address the effects of climate change around the world, with the first launch potentially taking place in 2022.

The committee’s decision will now be referred to Scottish Government ministers for review.

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The plans include a control centre, 2.5km of road and a launch pad, occupying a total of just over 10 acres of the 740-acre site, while an economic impact assessment commissioned by HIE concluded that developing the spaceport could support around 250 high-quality jobs in the Highlands and Islands, including 61 in Sutherland and Caithness.

David Oxley, director of business growth with HIE, said: “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. We are very aware of the environmental challenges presented by a project of this kind, particularly in such wild and unspoilt area as A’ Mhòine.

“We have been diligent in carrying out survey work to understand and mitigate all potential impacts, including a restoration plan that will see all of the peat that is dug out during construction retained on site and used to repair areas that were degraded by past digging. 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.

He added: “Another important aspect is the role that satellites we launch from Sutherland will play in gathering data that helps understand and address the impact of global climate change. 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.”


Sam Trendall

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