CONSTRUCTION has begun at the UK’s first vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland as the project received a further spending boost.

Rocket and launch services company Orbex announced yesterday that construction has begun at Sutherland Spaceport in Scotland, making this the first vertical launch spaceport to be built on the UK mainland.

It was also confirmed that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will contribute £3 million to support the development of Sutherland Spaceport, completing a public investment package that also includes £9m from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Government, and £2.55m that the UK Space Agency announced in 2018.

Located on the North coast of Scotland, the spaceport will be Orbex’s base, using the site to launch up to 12 orbital rockets per year to deploy exploratory satellites.

The opening ceremony to mark the start of construction was attended by a number of officials and stakeholders including Small Businesses Minister Richard Lochhead, UK Space Agency deputy CEO Ian Annett, HIE’s director of projects David Oxley and Melness Crofters’ Estate chair Dorothy Pritchard.

Sutherland Spaceport is intended to become the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and its operation. For example, peat lifted during the construction will be re-used to repair large areas of peatland that have degraded over centuries and its innovative Prime rocket is powered by a renewable biofuel.

Chief development officer at Orbex Kristian von Bengtson said: “Sutherland represents a new breed of spaceport, for a new breed of rocket. This is 21st-century, agile spaceflight with sustainability at its core.

“With the construction of Sutherland Spaceport underway, this is an important piece of the puzzle that will make the UK a modern space nation.

“Just as importantly, we’re hopefully also setting the tone for how business can be a force for good, creating jobs and opportunities while minimising the impact upon the environment.”

The establishment of a commercial spaceport in Sutherland 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’s role in the spaceport is expected to stimulate significant private investment that will benefit the local community through job creation, supply chain opportunities and other associated economic benefits.

In addition to the short-term contracts for local businesses and contractors that will result from construction, Orbex will be recruiting for skilled local jobs to support the operation of the spaceport.

The types of roles will span several areas including facilities and operational management, security, general administration and finance, stakeholder engagement and launch campaign-related roles. Employment opportunities will be advertised locally when recruitment commences.

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Economic impact assessments commissioned by 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.

HIE director of projects Oxley 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.”

Small Businesses Minister 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 £490bn 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 visit the Spaceport for this important milestone.”