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Spaceport ‘fantastic boost’ for far north

THE plan to build the UK's first vertical launch spaceport in the far north is "a fantastic confidence boost" for the area and could be a catalyst for other developments, local trade unionists have been told.

June Love, of Space Hub Sutherland, also suggested the project could benefit the tourism industry when she gave an update at a meeting of Thurso and Wick Trade Union Council.

She said the spaceport at Moine, between Tongue and Durness, is the only one to receive grant funding for a vertical launch site. It is expected to create 40 local jobs with a further 400 in the wider region.

The aim is to have small commercial and research satellites in sub-orbital flight by the early 2020s.

The UK Space Agency gave £2.5 million towards the cost of the £17.5 million project, which also involves companies such as Lockheed Martin and Orbex. Highlands and Islands Enterprise has given £9.8 million to the project.

Ms Love said the spaceport could provide other potential opportunities for the area. "It brings inward investment potential and is a fantastic confidence boost for the area.

"It could attract other things here and help the tourist industry as people would want to come and see the site," she told Thursday night's meeting.

She said the area has the highly skilled workforce and the facilities required for such an initiative which will help sustain the reputation of the north Highlands as a centre for science and technology. It will also help diversify the local economy as jobs are lost at the Dounreay nuclear plant while it is being decommissioned.

It is expected a planning application will be submitted by late 2019. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring of next year and take 12 months to complete, with the first launch due in the early 2020s. Architects have been appointed to design the spaceport.

Ms Love said the spacecraft will be about 17 metres high and weigh less than 20 tons. The journey into space will take between 15 and 20 minutes.

She said initial launches will use international staff but local staff will be required over time. Other launch companies are taking an interest in the project.

Ms Love pointed out that discussions have taken place with the Melness Crofters Estate on leasing land and said North Highland College (UHI) in Thurso could be involved in training and other aspects of the project such as research and development.

Trades council chairman Davie Alexander said: "This is a very positive step and can only be a good thing for the area."

Lockheed Martin is an American aerospace giant which employs 100,000 people worldwide, while Orbital Express (Orbex) is a UK-based space flight company developing a new orbital micro-launch vehicle.

It is expected six small rockets a year will be launched from the Sutherland site.

Source - John O'Groat Journal