Answers to frequently asked questions will be updated as more information becomes available during the development of this project.
1. What is Space Hub Sutherland?
The proposal is to have a UK Vertical Launch (UKVL) site at Melness in Sutherland to launch small satellites into orbit around the earth.
The project will include a launch site and associated infrastructure for the transport and preparation of launch vehicles.
2. What has been announced?
The UK Space Agency has awarded grant funding of £2.5m to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to support the development of a launch facility.
HIE confirmed a major funding package for the project totalling £17.3m, including the £2.5m from UK Space Agency and £9.8m from HIE, which has been approved in principle by the HIE Board, subject to conditions.
HIE will develop the infrastructure required – access roads, some buildings and a launch pad – and the site will be run by a commercial operator.
3. Why Sutherland?
A key aspect was that two highly credible launch companies – Lockheed Martin and Orbex – had chosen to partner with HIE for the Sutherland project. In HIE’s view these companies were the ones most capable of capturing launches for the UK.
The Sutherland launch facility provides:
• A flight trajectory that does not overfly populated areas
• Appropriate climate to allow scheduled launches
• Access to key orbits. Both polar and sun synchronous orbits can be achieved from North Scotland which currently account for 95% of future orbital requirements
4. How much will this cost?
HIE’s board has approved in principle funding of up to £17.3m towards a launch facility, with some key conditions and controls. This includes the £2.5m from UKSA grant award, as well as a potential £9.8m of HIE’s own funding. Discussions are still ongoing with other potential funders to finalise the package.
5. What will the space hub look like?
The design is currently being developed. We expect the infrastructure to be kept as simple as possible. Key requirements will include a launch pad, clean room, tracking, fuel storage, security offices and road access.
6. How would a Sutherland space hub work?
HIE will use the funding that has been approved to build out and own the space hub. HIE will go to market to procure a Launch Site Operator (LSO).
7. Where do Orbex and Lockheed Martin fit in?
Orbex and Lockheed Martin (Launch Service Providers) were also awarded UK Space Agency funding to develop a launch capability. It is expected that in the future these companies will deliver launch vehicles to the space hub, together with their satellite customers, and launch these satellites into space.
8. How many launches are expected yearly?
An independent assessment undertaken for HIE concluded that around six launches per year would be achievable from Sutherland, depending on the market size.
9. How soon could launches start?
Currently we expect that the first launch could take place in the early 2020s.
To ensure safety of the public, conditions for licence will be agreed by the UK Space Agency regulatory body. Regulations are planned to be put in front of the UK Parliament in 2020 and enacted by 2021, requiring licenses to run a space hub, run a range and launch a specific launcher technology. We are in discussion with the UKSA to allow construction and other work to begin before 2020.
10. Site location: Will the access road come off the main road?
Yes. We plan to create a road access from the A838 and plans have been drawn up to look at the best location for this access road. We work with the local community and the planners to ensure the best location is selected and to ensure safety and traffic flow are maintained on the main roads.
11. What amount of upgrading will the road network require to accommodate vehicles for space hub?
There are currently no upgrades planned. The environmental impact assessment report which will be submitted for planning will require a traffic management plan, both in the construction phase and operation of the space hub.
12. Who will be responsible for site operations?
Our intention is to contract a Launch Site Operator (LSO) who will be responsible for site operations.
13. Who is taking planning forward?
HIE will be the applicant for the planning application.
14. What will happen at the site?
It is anticipated that the launch vehicles will arrive in large pieces to be assembled into a working launcher on the site. The small satellites will arrive assembled, receive final checks before being loaded into the top of the launcher. A moving gantry will take the launcher and spacecraft a short distance to a concrete launch pad, where it will be raised from a horizontal to a vertical position, fuelled and launched.
15. Will there be a safety area?
Safety will always be a prime consideration. It is likely there will be a designated safety corridor for a limited time during preparations and launch. Details will follow as designs for the space hub are developed.
16. Where does the satellite go – does it fly over the sea?
Yes. The launchers will fly north towards the pole and the trajectory means they will not pass over heavily populated places.
17. Will you be also doing space tourism or flights with astronauts?
No – the launchers proposed for this project are not of the size needed to launch astronauts or consider space tourism.
18. How big are the vehicles?
The vehicles proposed by both Orbex and Lockheed are around 17m tall and 1.3m wide.
19. What will the noise levels be?
The launcher will only be visible for around two minutes before it flies beyond the horizon, so noise will be audible for a very short period of time and quickly reduce as the launcher gains altitude and distance. Specific levels will be provided in the future from the launch companies.
20. How safe will launches be?
Launches will be regulated by the appropriate Government regulatory body, ensuring that safety is robustly checked and enforced.
21. Will airspace restrictions have an impact on launch operations from Sutherland?
Both launch companies are fully aware of the airspace restrictions that apply. Application will be made with the Civil Aviation Authority and other bodies to ensure that this is co-ordinated.
22. What security arrangements will be in place for Anti-terrorism and Defence for time of war?
Security will be a strong feature, and we will be well prepared for a full range of emergency planning scenarios.
23. How will the space hub impact on the environment?
As with any infrastructure development, a detailed environmental impact assessment will be conducted as part of the planning process, and appropriate regulatory agencies and statutory consultees will be involved. HIE fully recognises and values the importance of the natural environment around the proposed space hub.
HIE is undertaking environmental assessments to assess the impact that noise, vibration and land use from the operation and the construction of the space hub will have on local flora and fauna. These will be included in a planning application and will be made public as part of the planning process, which is currently expected to begin late 2019.
24. Will this impact on tourism?
Based on international experience, we believe the establishment of a satellite launch facility can add to the attractiveness of the region as a place to visit.
25. How many jobs will be created?
We expect hundreds of jobs to be created.
It is anticipated that around 40 full-time equivalent posts will be created in the local area for space hub activities by 2023.
An economic impact assessment was carried out which showed that by around five years’ time, the space hub would be capable of supporting around 400 full-time equivalent posts throughout the wider Highlands and Islands.
26. Will the project support other community benefits?
HIE is determined to ensure that the project generates community benefits, and will take actions to ensure that these will be informed by the wishes of local people.
27. Will HIE support the space ambitions of other areas?
HIE is committed to maximising the opportunities to the region from the growing international space sector and keen to identify prospects for other parts of the region to benefit. We will continue to work with our partners across the region to explore commercial opportunities.
The UK’s space economy is at a very early stage of development and we believe there will be significant opportunities for our region beyond hosting a launch site, including supply chain development and the attraction of inward investment.
28. When will the planning application be submitted?
We expect the planning application to be submitted in late 2019.
29. What happens next?
HIE will continue to develop the information required for the planning application. In parallel, the design of the launch site will be undertaken, and construction work tendered.
In all of this, it will be vital to ensure that local people continue to have a chance to learn about our plans, to air views, raise questions and that people living nearby have the chance to be heard. HIE is determined to ensure that the project generates real community benefits, and that these should be informed by the wishes of the local people.
In the longer term, HIE will take forward discussions with private companies to explore further inward investment activity and identify opportunities for local, regional and Scottish businesses.
30. How many launch technology companies are there?
Currently, there are relatively few launch technologies that have been developed solely for the kinds of small satellites that are planned to be launched from the Highlands. That is why the input of our industry partners is vital to ensure the technology deployed in Sutherland is developed and proven.
31. Who are the launch service provider companies that have chosen to partner with Sutherland?
Two launch technology companies have partnered with the Sutherland site – Lockheed Martin and Orbex – with all three partners receiving offers of funding from UKSA.