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Start of work marks milestone for spaceport

Orbex rocket

Orbex will launch 12 rockets a year

Construction has begun on the north coast of Scotland, marking a key milestone in developing the first vertical launch spaceport to be built on the UK mainland.

The Sutherland Spaceport will be the ‘home’ spaceport of Forres-based rocket and launch services company, Orbex, which will use the site to launch up to 12 orbital rockets per year for the deployment of satellites into Earth’s orbit.

Sutherland Spaceport is intended to become the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and its operation. One illustration of this is how peat lifted during the construction will be re-used to repair large areas of peatland that have degraded over centuries.

The establishment of a commercial spaceport in Sutherland is expected to support around 250 jobs in the region, including 40 jobs in Sutherland and Caithness.

Economic impact assessments commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) conclude that the presence of 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.

It was also confirmed today that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will contribute £3m to support the development of Sutherland Spaceport.

This completes a public investment package that also includes just over £9m from HIE and the Scottish Government and £2.55m that the UK Space Agency announced in 2018.

The NDA chose to support Sutherland Spaceport following the decommissioning of the nearby Dounreay nuclear power station, as part of its remit to retire the UK’s oldest nuclear sites while supporting affected communities and the environment.

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.

A ceremony to mark the start of construction was attended by a number of officials and stakeholders including Richard Lochhead, Scottish Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade and Ian Annett, deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency.

David Oxley, director of strategic projects with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Dorothy Pritchard, chairwoman of Melness Crofters Estate also attended.

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