Promise of 250 Highland jobs as first turf cut at Sutherland Spaceport
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Up to 250 new job opportunities could be launched on the back of Sutherland Spaceport, developers claimed as work started on the north coast site.
A £14.6 million funding package was finalised on Friday as a ground-breaking ceremony was held to mark the start of work on the UK mainland's first vertical launch spaceport.
Sutherland Spaceport is intended to become the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and its operation.
The milestone in the project was welcomed by the local crofting group which has been pushing the scheme since its inception.
Dorothy Pritchard, of Melness Crofters Estate, said: “We're starting to see the physical representation of a dream that began several years ago. This is our way of regenerating this community and reversing population decline, by giving families a reason to stay or come back to this area.
"The fact that we’re doing this while safeguarding the environment is something we’re all very proud of. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this project, and I can't wait to see the first launch.”
The establishment of a commercial spaceport at A' Mhoine, west of Tongue, is expected to support around 250 new employment opportunities in the Highlands and Islands over the coming years, including 40 jobs in Sutherland and Caithness, Orbex said.
The company said that economic impact assessments commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) concluded that the spaceport has the potential to generate almost £1 billion in gross value added (GVA) for the Highlands and Islands economy over the next 30 years.
Orbex recently signed a 50-year sub-lease with HIE, enabling Orbex to direct the construction and assume full operational management of the new facility on the community-owned Melness Crofters Estate. It claims it can stimulate significant private investment that will benefit the local community through job creation, supply chain opportunities and other associated economic benefits.
David Oxley, director of strategic projects at HIE, said: “The start of construction at Sutherland Spaceport is an important milestone for the local community and the UK space sector. The prospect of launch is exciting in itself but for HIE as a development agency, an even greater prize is the economic benefits that this development will bring to our region.
"We are very pleased to have developed this important and innovative project through its initial phases and greatly appreciate the contributions made by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and UK Space Agency. This has been a truly collaborative process and we are delighted to be working with Orbex to make Sutherland Spaceport a reality.”
It was also confirmed that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will contribute £3 million to support the development of Sutherland Spaceport, completing a public investment package that also includes just over £9 million from HIE and the Scottish Government, and £2.55 million that the UK Space Agency announced in 2018.
David Peattie, CEO of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said: “Supporting this project delivers on our commitment to undertake our decommissioning mission sustainably with care for our communities. This investment will help support the local community to grow and diversify its economy, delivering a positive and long-lasting legacy for future generations.”
The ground-breaking ceremony was attended by a number of officials and stakeholders including Richard Lochhead, minister for small business, innovation and trade for the Scottish Government, Ian Annett, deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, HIE's David Oxley and Dorothy Pritchard of Melness Crofters Estate.
Orbex has permission to launch 12 satellites a year into low-earth orbit from Sutherland Spaceport. Jacobs, the international professional and technical services company, has been contracted for the construction of the site as well as spaceport operations support, operations consultancy and engineering services.
Mr Lochhead said: “It is an incredibly exciting time for the space sector, with the first orbital launch from UK soil expected to take place in Scotland later this year. Despite our relatively small country, Scotland plays a leading role in the space sector and with the global market projected to grow to £490 billion by 2030, we are well placed to become Europe’s leading space nation by 2030.
“The space sector already plays an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to stay connected, predict weather and monitor the effects of climate change. Sutherland Spaceport and Orbex will play a vital role in providing benefits for our people, our economy and our planet.
“I was delighted to be able to visit Sutherland Spaceport for this important milestone. As I told parliament last week, the Scottish space sector is opening up new frontiers.”
Mr Annett of the UK Space Agency added: “This marks a major step forward for Sutherland Spaceport and demonstrates the UK’s growing launch capability and the thriving space sector in Scotland.
“The UK Space Agency has invested £8.5 million in Scottish-based launch technologies through the European Space Agency's Boost! programme, as well as £2.5 million towards the spaceport and £5.5 million for the development of Orbex’s Prime rocket, which has catalysed further investment from private and public partners.
“Not only will Sutherland Spaceport unlock 250 new job opportunities and boost the Highlands and Islands economy, but its carbon-neutral ambition underlines the UK’s position as a world-leader in sustainable space activities.”