Space Hub Sutherland - FAQs

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions will be updated as more information becomes available during the development of this project.


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.

What has been announced?

The UK Space Agency has awarded grant funding of £2.5m to 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.


Why Sutherland?

Key factors that led HIE to choose Sutherland as the optimal vertical launch site include:

  • A flight trajectory that does not overfly populated areas
  • Appropriate weather for scheduled launches
  • Access to key orbits 
  • Both polar and sun-synchronous orbits can be achieved from North Scotland which currently accounts for 95% of future orbital requirements.
  • Commitment from two highly credible launch companies – Lockheed Martin and Orbex.
  • Availability of skilled labour, aligned with the present decommissioning of Dounreay nuclear facility.

Will the access to the site come off the main road?

Yes. We expect to create a road access from the A838 and plans are being developed to determine the best location. 

What amount of upgrading will the road network require to accommodate vehicles for the space hub?

Our planning application will require a traffic management plan, which will consider whether any upgrades are required.

Community benefits/tourism

How many jobs will be created?

An economic impact assessment in 2017 concluded that within five years, the space hub would be capable of supporting around 400 full-time equivalent posts throughout the wider Highlands and Islands. This included an estimated 40 full-time equivalent posts in the local area for space hub activities by 2023. 

Will the project support other community benefits?

We are determined to ensure the project generates community benefits that will be informed by the wishes of local people.

Will HIE support the space ambitions of other areas?

We are committed to maximising the opportunities to the whole region from the growing international space sector and are continuing to work with other projects in the Highlands and Islands.

The opportunities for our region go beyond hosting a launch site, including manufacturing, supply chain development and the attraction of inward investment.

Will this impact on tourism?

Based on international experience, a satellite launch facility can add to the attractiveness of the region as a place to visit.

Are you planning space tourism or flights with astronauts?


Industry partners

Who are the launch companies which have chosen to partner with SHS?

Two companies have confirmed plans to launch satellites into space from the Sutherland site – Lockheed Martin and Orbex – and have been awarded funding from the UK Space Agency to support their ambitions.

Space Vehicles/launches

How soon could launches start?

We are working towards the first launch taking place in the early 2020s.

What will the space vehicles carry and why?

The space hub is being developed for small, commercial satellites. 

These are generally used for earth observation, including vegetation, weather, cloud cover, ice cover and so on. Much of the science supporting and tracking global warming is enabled by such satellite data.

Most of these satellites will be developed by commercial companies, including some in Scotland.

How do you define a small satellite?

A small satellite is an unmanned spacecraft that orbits our planet sending signals to Earth for a variety of commercial and scientific uses. Satellites can weigh many tons, but the UK has pioneered popular smaller systems that cost less to build and launch.

What is the flight path?

Launchers will fly north towards the pole and over the Atlantic. 

What about military use?

The site is being designed as a commercial spaceport. It is not a military facility. 

How many launches are expected yearly?

Initial expectations were that around six launches a year would be made from Sutherland, although the latest information from launch companies indicates that around 12 may be possible.

Ultimately it depends on a number of factors, including the growth of the sector and the success of launch companies in winning contracts. 

To scope environmental impact, we have proposed a figure of 40 launches annually. This is to make sure that environmental assessments are as robust as possible. The actual figure is expected to be much lower.

What size are the vehicles?

The Orbex vehicle is around 17m tall and 1.3m wide. Discussions are ongoing with Lockheed Martin.

What type of fuels will the launch vehicles use?

The launchers proposed for Space Hub Sutherland use either everyday fuels such as kerosene (aviation fuel) or liquid propane (Calor Gas) and use liquid oxygen as the oxidiser. These combust fully to carbon dioxide, water and a small amount of soot and carbon monoxide, similar to combustion products from jet or diesel engines, or bottled gas supplies.

Some of the satellites may contain small volumes of other fuels for use in orbit.

Will there be use of plutonium power sources?


Site safety

How safe will launches be?

The operations of the spaceport will be highly regulated by the appropriate regulatory bodies, ensuring that safety is robustly checked and enforced. Prior to launch, the spaceport and the launchers will be required to apply for UKSA licences.

Will there be a launch exclusion zone?

For safety reasons, the public will be restricted from entering a zone of around 2km radius from the launch pad in the short period before launches. 

However, we do not plan to fully fence the spaceport, only areas around the storage tanks, pads, buildings and the main road entrance.

Will there be any exclusion zones in air and sea?

Before and during launch there will be temporary exclusion zones that will place restrictions on marine and air users. 

How will public crowds be managed on launch days?

Details are unknown at present, but areas will be defined to allow the public to view the launches safely.

Construction and operation of Space Hub Sutherland

When are you planning to start with construction works and how long will they last?

We propose to start construction in 2020, subject to planning permission and other consents. We expect construction could last around 18 months.

What will the space hub look like?

The design is currently being developed with our partners. We expect the infrastructure to be kept as simple as possible. Key requirements should include an assembly building with ancillary structures, launch and operations control centre, access roads, antenna farms, commodity farms, launch pad complex, launch towers, safety and security fencing and associated infrastructure.  

When you submit planning will you be in a position to show what the proposed development will look like?

Yes. We aim to submit our planning application towards in early 2020, when we will have finalised the design and requirements for the space hub.

How will the space hub work?

We will design and own the space hub. A Launch Site Operator (LSO) will be procured who will ultimately be responsible for site operations.

What will happen at the site?

Launch vehicles will arrive in sections to be assembled in the integration facility. The small satellites will arrive assembled and receive final checks before being loaded into the launcher. A moving gantry will take the launcher a short distance to a concrete launch pad, where it will be raised from a horizontal to a vertical position, fuelled and launched.

Planning and environmental impact

Who is taking planning forward and when will it be submitted?

We will be the applicant for the planning application and this is expected to be submitted in early 2020.

How will the space hub impact on the environment?

We are commissioning a detailed environmental impact assessment, involving regulatory agencies and statutory consultees. We fully recognise and value the importance of the natural environmental around the proposed space hub.

We will assess the impact that noise, vibration and land use from the operation and construction of the space hub will have on local flora and fauna. Bird surveys have been in progress since 2017. 

What happens after the EIA report has been completed?

We will submit a Prior Notification of Planning to The Highland Council. This signals the start of a 12-week public consultation where views are sought on the Environmental Impact Assessment. The EIA will then be finalised and submitted with the planning application.

How will noise effects on local residents be assessed?

Noise surveys will be carried out during both the construction phase and operational use.

How will air quality be affected by the proposed development?

Information on potential pollutants that could be emitted during a typical launch will be modelled to assess the likely increase in concentrations. The significance of effects on human health will be covered in the EIA report.

How will the proposed development impact on the ecological and ornithological designated sites (SSSI, SAC, SPA, etc)?

A comprehensive suite of ecological and ornithological surveys is being carried out to ensure two full years of survey data is collected. The EIA report will contain detailed assessments of the proposed development on ecological and ornithological sites. If required, steps will be implemented to avoid, reduce or offset potential adverse effects.

What are you doing with all the peat you will be digging up?

Building and road design will minimise the amount of peat to be disturbed and/or removed. A peat management plan will be prepared to examine how the peat removed can be used elsewhere on the site. 

Regulation / security

How is the marine environment being assessed?

Consultation is ongoing with Marine Scotland to determine the marine licensing, pre-application consultation and EIA requirements for the proposed development.

Will airspace restrictions have an impact on launch operations from Sutherland?

The partners will work with the Civil Aviation Authority and other bodies to ensure that this is co-ordinated.