Scottish rocket manufacturer and launch provider, Orbex, has signed a 50-year lease to build and operate Sutherland Spaceport – the first vertical launch site for satellites on the UK mainland.
International engineering services company, Jacobs, which recently made an investment in Orbex, has been appointed as main contractor.
Jacobs will also collaborate with Orbex to provide spaceport operations support, operations consultancy and engineering services, drawing on its experience managing sites and providing services for NASA.
Construction is set to begin ‘imminently’ according to an Orbex spokesperson.
Orbex, based in Forres, Moray, signed the lease with development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for the spaceport location on community-owned land on the A’ Mhoine peninsula in north-west Sutherland.
Orbex will assume full operational management of the new facility. Up to 12 orbital rockets per year will launch from the 10-acre site, carrying satellites into low Earth orbit.
The HIE has developed plans since 2018, and planning permission was granted in August 2020. Orbex will have the option to extend the lease for another 25 years.
‘World’s greenest spaceport’
The partners intend for Sutherland Spaceport to be the ‘world’s greenest spaceport’, in both construction and operation.
The Orbex Prime rocket will use renewable biofuel Futuria Liquid Gas, supplied by Calor.
The fuel should allow significant emissions reductions compared to other launchers of a similar size, said the firm.
The land is owned and managed by the Melness Crofters’ Estate, who have worked closely with HIE.
Orbex CEO Chris Larmour, said: “We have collaborated closely with them [Melness Crofters’ Estate] over the past few years, and we are completely aligned in our vision of delivering a sustainable spaceport that will bring jobs and prosperity to the region.”
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Karen Wiemelt, Jacobs senior vice-president of Energy, Security and Technology, said: “The Orbex Prime rocket promises to be a gamechanger for small satellite developers and operators, enabling them to launch light satellites much more efficiently and cost-effectively.
“Sutherland Spaceport is an important development for the European space industry and will bring major economic and social benefits to North Highland and Moray, where our business has been active for decades in supporting operations, decommissioning and remediation at the Dounreay nuclear site.”
Orbex’s role in the spaceport will stimulate significant private investment, the company claimed, benefiting the local community through job creation, supply chain opportunities and other economic benefits.
Total private investment over the initial three-year period is expected to reach £20m. The rocket firm expects to create up to 40 technical and non-technical full-time equivalent jobs to support operation and maintenance of the site.
In October this year, Orbex secured £40.4m in a Series C funding round led by the Scottish National Investment Bank.
Main image credit: Orbex
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