Artist's rendering of Orbex Prime takes off from the Sutherland spaceport.
|Orbital inclination |
|90° (polar orbit)|
The Sutherland spaceport, also known as Space Hub Sutherland or UKVL Sutherland, is planned to be the first spaceport of the United Kingdom. It would be operated by a commercial entity and would employ 40 people. The spaceport will host a launch vehicle called Orbex Prime. The spaceport will be located on the A' Mhòine peninsula in Sutherland, Scotland. Construction is set to begin in late 2021, with a first launch as early as 2022.
The facility would be operated by a commercial Launch Pad Operator, who has yet to be appointed. The proposed spaceport is expected to employ some 40 people directly and with another 400 jobs supported indirectly. It will be built through the local development agency, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The submitted planning application shows that the spaceport will host a planned new rocket called Prime by the startup company Orbex. The facility was originally planned to be shared by both Orbex and Lockheed Martin, and to potentially use two separate launch pads, as both rockets use different propellants. However, the final planning application includes only one launch pad.
The location at A' Mhòine peninsula was selected over two other Highland, Scotland locations: Unst, Shetland, and North Uist, Western Isles. The location would be useful for launching small satellites to polar orbit and Sun-synchronous orbit. The spaceport site is 35 miles (56 km) from the closed Dounreay nuclear research reactor. The nearest community to the spaceport is the crofting township of Talmine, alongside the Kyle of Tongue, with a population of 200.
The project is officially called UKVL Sutherland, and the project is being advanced by the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), working in conjunction with the UK Space Agency, Orbex and Lockheed Martin.
The proposed site was first announced at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show in July, and at that time was planned to be completed by 2020. However, the planning and consultation processes (and the COVID-19 pandemic) have all contributed towards delays.
As of 2018[update] when initially proposed, the spaceport was estimated to cost £17.3 million to build, £2.5 million of which was planned to be provided to Highlands and Islands by the UK government.
Initially there was mixed support amongst the local crofters. In November 2018, the Melness Crofters Estate (MCE) voted on whether to continue discussions about the proposal. Twenty-seven votes were cast in favour, with eighteen against and one spoiled ballot.
In September 2019, HIE began a formal public consultation phase, ahead of the formal application for planning consent, which was expected to be filed in December 2019.
In August 2020, the project was formally approved by Highland Council. With regulator approval to move forward, construction is planned to begin in late 2021. The council has planned for the first launch at the site as early as 2022.