Written by Geoffrey Bastin



Have you ever wondered why the UK hasn’t got a spaceport?

Well it seems that situation is about to be changed thanks to a number of crofters and an equally important planning decision that will allow land belonging to the Melness Crofters’ Estate in Sutherland, Scotland to use a large area for the launch of small space vehicles twelve times a year.   The land will still be used for crofting and grazing and will only need to be cleared within a 36-hour notice of an impending launch.

Approval of the Crofters was not unanimous with 27 for, 18 against and one spoilt ballot paper.  The nearest population numbers around 200 and those in favour are concerned to maintain a local tradition for the future.

The good news is it will keep the area alive and create 40 new jobs and the same elsewhere as Sutherland is the furthest north on mainland UK where rockets don’t have to pass over habitable areas and their booster rockets can be collected after launch.

Of course considerations over pollution are always present and the facility apart from a launchpad and control facilities will also involve storage for bio propane being the main propulsion fuel.

The projects initial cost is around £18 million (2018 estimate) for which the UK government is providing around £3 million.

So it’s all systems go to start building the space hub said a representative for the Crofters in conjunction with Highlands and Islands Enterprise who will own the facility and Orbex the company that will use the facilities along with the UK Space Agency.

The payloads won’t be large initially being around 125kgs rising to 180kgs.

So don’t expect to see Boris Johnson or Keith Starmer being uplifted from there although for those two the weather is probably too cold anyway and it could take a while to get them there, more the pity, despite planned improvements to the local roads.

Now Orbex is a new company that will be using its Prime rockets that are manufactured near Inverness.   Strangely the other original operator Lockheed Martin, an American company, was due to share the facilities but has now decided to make its own arrangements with the Shetland Space Centre on the Island of Unst.  Surely that can’t have anything to do with possible Scottish independence, could it?  Possibly a wise move as launch dates could become an issue although it’s even further away from the mainland, being stuck out nearly into the Norwegian sea.

The amount of space activity today is mind-boggling with hundreds of small communication satellites being launched for all sorts of purposes including Wi-Fi for rural areas which cannot be linked at present, to ever more navigational and very high-frequency electromagnetic radiation signals for 5G, artificial intelligence and of course military purposes.

The concerns over space junk are growing and keeping a track of all that hardware must be a problem for someone.  This new UK space hub reassures us that nothing will be left to pollute the land, sea or space so it seems Highland and Islands Enterprise have thought of just about everything.

I’m not privy to the landscape around that area and judging by the artist’s impressions it is fairly flat with buildings that will have green roofs and blend into the local scenery.

I just hope the birds get wise and the sheep recognise the 36-hour warnings as they begin their migration well away from the action with the use of some good earplugs at the ready.   Let’s also hope some of those old crofters cottages don’t get shaken too badly requiring substantial rebuilding after every launch.  Mind you that by itself will create local employment.

My advice to the locals must be to close the hatches and lower the blast shields in readiness for the first launch in 2022 when certain calm will be lost at least twelve times a year.
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