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Space Hub Sutherland - FAQs

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

General

What is Space Hub Sutherland?

We’re proposing to create a vertical launch site at Melness in Sutherland to put small communications satellites into Earth orbit.

The site will include a launch pad, control centre 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.

HIE has confirmed a funding in principle for the project totalling £17.3m, (including the £2.5m from UKSA and £9.8m from HIE) subject to conditions.

HIE will develop the infrastructure required – access roads, buildings and a launch pad – and the site will be run by a commercial operator.

Construction and operation of Space Hub Sutherland

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

We’ve been proposing to start construction during 2020, subject to planning permission and other consents. However, this needs to be reviewed following the COVID-19 outbreak. We expect construction could last around 15 months.

What will the space hub look like?

Key requirements will include an assembly building with ancillary structures, launch and operations control centre, access roads, antenna farms, fuel storage, launch pad complex, launch towers, safety and security fencing and associated infrastructure.  You can access our plans on the Highland Council website, and take a virtual tour in our fly-through video.

 

How will the space hub work?

Our proposal is that HIE 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.

Location

Why Sutherland?

Key factors that led HIE to support Sutherland as an 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 – these currently account for 95% of future orbital requirements.
  • Significant interest 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 road access from the A838.  You can view the latest plans on this site.

 

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

As part of our planning submission we have developed a traffic management plan.  We believe that structural upgrades will not be needed, but recognise that the development would lead to increased traffic volumes during both construction and operations. 

Community benefits/tourism

How many jobs will be created?

An economic assessment published in February 2020 concluded that the launch facility will support around 250 well-paid jobs in the Highlands and Islands, including 61 in Caithness and Sutherland (44 at Space Hub Sutherland itself).

What kinds of jobs will be available at Space Hub Sutherland?

Within five years of operations beginning, we expect there will be around 40 jobs on site, including opportunities for apprenticeships.  The range of skills required is likely to involve: mechanical and electrical engineering; weather monitoring; control room operations, ground services, rangers, security, fuel services, marketing, management, housekeeping and administration. There will also be posts working with launch and satellite companies and with academic and research institutions.

 

Will the project support other community benefits?

We are determined to ensure the project generates community benefits and that these 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 from the growing international space sector to the whole region 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.  HIE intends to work with the local community to explore ways of maximising the benefit from those wishing to visit and watch a launch.

Are you planning space tourism or flights with astronauts?

No. 

Industry partners

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

The site is intended to be used by multiple launch companies able to adhere to the constraints and regulations.

Two companies have stated their intentions to launch satellites into space from the Sutherland site – Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Orbex. Both have been awarded funding from the UKSA to support their ambitions.

Space Vehicles/launches

How soon could launches start?

We are working towards the first launch taking place in 2022.

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 to monitor and understand climate change is enabled by satellite data.

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

How do you define a small satellite?

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

How many satellites could be launched at once?

The Orbex Prime launcher can carry a total payload of 180kg which could be made up of multiple small satellites.

What is the flight path?

The flight path is to the north to access ‘high inclination’ orbits such as polar and sun-synchronous orbits  

What about military use?

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

How many launches are expected yearly?

The planning permission limits the number of launches at 12 per year.

It is likely to take a few years to achieve full capacity.

12 flights per year is consistent with Orbex’s optimum launch cadence from Sutherland.

What size are the vehicles?

The Orbex ‘Prime’ vehicle designed and built by Orbex is around 19m tall and 1.3m wide.   Our design anticipates that all launch vehicles using Space Hub Sutherland will be of a similar scale.

What type of fuels will the launch vehicles use?

Fuels such as kerosene (aviation fuel) or liquid propane (Calor Gas) will be used, with liquid oxygen as the oxidiser.

Orbex is pioneering the use of bio-propane in conjunction with liquid oxygen as the oxidiser. Bio-propane is chemically identical to the propane (e.g. Calor Gas) used for domestic heating in houses not connected to mains gas supply.

Bio-propane is a renewable sustainable fuel that, in combination with the low mass of the Orbex Prime, will reduce the carbon footprint for launch by 90%. Bio propane burns very cleanly, leaving no atmospheric carbon unlike conventional kerosene rocket fuels.

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 UK launch licences under the Space Industry Act 2018.

The regulatory framework governing launches is expected to be laid before parliament in the coming months.

Will there be a launch exclusion zone?

Yes. For safety reasons, the public will be restricted from entering a zone of round the launch pad and extending out towards the north coast in the short period before launches. We anticipate this zone will be required for no more than six hours. 

Will there be any exclusion zones in air and sea?

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

How will public viewing be managed on launch days?

We recognise the need for areas to be defined to allow the public to view the launches safely without causing undue disruption. It is clear that careful planning and management will be needed and details will be worked out before launches take place and an initial strategy for this will be included in the planning submission. 

Planning and environmental impact

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

HIE is the applicant for planning consent and our application was submitted to Highland Council in February 2020.

How will the space hub impact on the environment, including ecological and ornithological designated sites (SSSI, SAC, SPA, etc)?

We fully recognise and value the importance of the natural environmental around the proposed space hub. We are currently completing a highly detailed and comprehensive environmental impact assessment report which has involved consulting with regulatory agencies and statutory consultees.

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 you have submitted your planning application?

Once the planning application is submitted to The Highland Council. The council will publish the planning documentation on their website to enable members of the public to download and respond.  

How will noise effects on local residents be assessed?

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

Launches will only be audible outside the exclusion zones for a few minutes during each launch.

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 air quality will be covered in the environmental impact assessment.

As Orbex plans to use clean-burning bio-propane, emissions will be limited to a small amount of CO2 and water vapour.

What will happen to all the peat that is dug 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. This will include potential opportunities to restore areas that had been degraded by the extraction of peat in past times. 

Regulation / security

How is the marine environment being assessed?

Our environmental impact assessment, submitted as part of our planning application, examines the potential impacts on the marine environment

From the outset, Orbex’s has always planned to recover the Stage 1 booster from the sea to minimize any marine debris. In addition, Orbex is developing a reusability system with support from the European space agency that will enable the boosters to be re-use for multiple missions.

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

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