Highlands & Islands

Firm behind Sutherland spaceport to open base in Forres

Prime rocket
Image caption Orbex also unveiled its Prime rocket in Forres

A company involved in plans to establish a spaceport in Sutherland is to open a mission control and design facility in Moray.

UK-based spaceflight firm Orbex said more than 130 new jobs could result from the decision to site the base in Forres.

Land on the Melness Crofters Estate has already been identified as a location for the spaceport.

It has proposed launching small rockets carrying nanosatellites from the site.

Orbex unveiled its Prime rocket, powered by what has been described as the world's largest 3D printed rocket engine, at its new base at Forres Enterprise Park.

Prime has been designed to take satellites to altitudes of up to 776 miles (1,250 km).

Orbex said the rocket's engine was the first commercial rocket engine to be designed to work with bio-propane, a "clean-burning, 100% renewable fuel source" that cuts carbon.

Image copyright Orbex
Image caption Launches from a planned spaceport in Sutherland would be monitored from Forres

A Prime rocket is scheduled to be launched carrying an experimental payload in 2021. Orbex is working with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd on this project.

Orbex has also been selected by Swiss company Astrocast SA to launch as many as 10 nanosatellites by 2023.

The satellites are part of a project to deliver affordable data communication services to the world's most remote areas.

First in Europe

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, which is part-funding the spaceport, said Orbex's new rocket design facility brought Britain one step closer to having its own domestic commercial launch capability.

He said: "The new facility and future spaceport operations will help unlock vast economic and societal benefits, not just in Scotland but right across the UK."

Business Secretary Greg Clark added: "The plans for a spaceport in Sutherland have already attracted significant investment, and Orbex's rocket design facility will bring more than 100 new jobs to the Scottish Highlands region.

"The space sector is a great British success story and we are working closely with industry to ensure we thrive in the commercial space age.

"New innovations, capabilities and expertise are driving significant growth, with the sector generating close to £15bn in income each year."

Image copyright Lockheed Martin
Image caption Lockheed Martin is another company involved in the spaceport project

In December, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) started gauging company interest in designing, building and operating the spaceport in Sutherland.

A planning application for the site could be submitted by the end of 2019.

The project has support from local residents, but there are others in the area who oppose it.

If built on schedule, HIE said the site could become the first orbital space launch facility in Europe.

US company Lockheed Martin has proposed carrying out launches from the spaceport.

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