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Legal decisions on Sutherland space hub expected in the coming weeks

By Gordon Calder

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TWO key legal decisions are expected in the coming weeks on the plan to build a space hub in north Sutherland.

One is the result of a judicial review in the Court of Session in Edinburgh on the Highland Council's decision to give planning permission for the hub while the other is the outcome of a Scottish Land Court hearing relating to crofters rights in the Melness Common Grazings. The launch site would be on crofting land, classed as common grazing, and owned and managed by the Melness Crofters' Estate which has given Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) a lease option for the project.

A visualisation by NORR of satellites being launched into orbit from space hub in Sutherland.
A visualisation by NORR of satellites being launched into orbit from space hub in Sutherland.

HIE, which is behind the plans, wants to build the site on peatland next to the A838 on the estate on the Mhoine peninsula. Objectors are worried about the impact the launches will have on the environment and health, while supporters say it will create jobs and boost the local economy.

The hearing at the Scottish Land Court was held over two weeks and finished at the end of May while the judicial review took place over three days last month. Decisions on both are expected in the coming weeks.

The space hub would occupy up to 13 acres of the estate’s 10,700 acres of land. Highland Council granted planning permission in June last year to create a vertical launch site in north Sutherland to put small communications satellites into Earth orbit. The site will include a launchpad, control centre, and associated infrastructure for the transport and preparation of launch vehicles.

The first satellites could be launched in the early 2020s and are expected to create about 40 highly skilled jobs as well as additional benefits such as space tourism and partnerships with renowned research institutes.

The Melness Crofters’ Estate committee has said it wants to ensure the space hub minimises change to the environment. The estate was established in 1995 after being gifted to the crofters of Melness by Michael Foljambe.

HIE's launch partner is Orbex, which intends to use vehicles designed and manufactured at its plant in Moray. Orbex has been awarded funding from the UK Space Agency to support its plans. The company provides orbital launch services to small, micro, and nano-satellite customers from its headquarters in Forres.

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