5th May 2023

Construction begins at Sutherland Spaceport

Space Hub Sutherland was the first spaceport to gain planning permission in the UK. The site was earmarked for a launch control centre, launch pad, antenna farm and an assembly facility for rockets and their payloads prior to launch.

Orbex rocket (picture: Orbex)
Orbex rocket (picture: Orbex)

In its guide to UK spaceports, the UK government explained the appeal of the United Kingdom – and Scotland in particular – as a base from which to launch spaceflights:

Geographically advantageous, the UK’s long coastline and island location make it unique in easily hosting different types of launch services. Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets. Spaceplanes and other space transportation can be launched at several aerodromes around the UK, each with their own individual geography and local infrastructure.

The Sutherland site on the A’Mhoine peninsula occupies around five hectares and is in a sparsely populated area that offers easy access to polar orbits. Looking towards the North Pole, it faces an unpopulated area of sea between the Faroe Islands, to the west, and Orkney and Shetland, to the east.

Polar orbits are particularly attractive for launching smaller satellites weighing just a few kilograms each. These satellites maintain a vertical orbit that takes them over both poles. The Earth rotates beneath them, which means they will be within range of every point on the planet’s surface several times a week. Such satellites are thus ideally suited for use in communications and observation missions.

Space investment in Scotland

The spaceport, which is designed to host up to 12 launches a year, was granted planning permission in 2020, and was backed by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise development agency and a grant from the UK Space Agency. It was widely reported that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority also contributed to the scheme in an effort to create jobs in the area in the wake of the closure of the Dounreay nuclear site close to Thurso.

Orbex facility at Forres (picture: Orbex)
Orbex facility at Forres (picture: Orbex)

Operator Orbex leased the site for 50 years, with an option to extend the lease for a further 25 years. Orbex has invested elsewhere in Scotland to support its space operations. Its corporate headquarters and one of its primary production facilities are at Forres, and its maintains a testing facility at Kinloss.



Other events that occured in May

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.