North Uist residents are set to get a taste of the space race after plans were unveiled to create the UK’s first vertical-launch commercial spaceport on the Outer Hebridean island, creating up to 70 jobs.
The local government council is investing around £1m to purchase the land where the launch facility will be constructed.
From there, rockets will be launched vertically, offering low-cost, safe and efficient access to sun synchronous and polar orbits.
In partnership with British security and defence contractor QinetiQ, which operates the nearby MoD Hebrides Range, the project will benefit from proven launch vehicle technology, existing intelligent systems and access to the largest area of segregated airspace in Europe.
Roddie Mackay, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “This is a critical strategic investment for the Comhairle and the North Uist community.
“The economic benefits that would flow from this project are immense and we are delighted to offer it our full backing.
“When it comes to fruition, the proposal will create between 50 and 70 jobs and a range of wider and longer-term economic benefits.”
Rachel MacKenzie, area manager for HIE Innse Gall, said: “Scotland’s space sector is young, but has strong potential and an appetite for significant growth.
“There is already international interest in opportunities here for design, manufacturing and supply chain businesses, and launch operations.
“HIE is delighted to be working with our partners in the Spaceport 1 consortium to develop these ambitious plans for the Outer Hebrides.”
The consortium consists of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), QinetiQ, and Commercial Space Technologies (CST), a UK-based consultancy and satellite launch broker with 35 years of experience.
Alan Webb, director at CST, said: “CST is delighted to be part of the Spaceport1 journey.
“We have been following the story of spaceports in the UK for over ten years and we identified early on that North Uist has the necessary infrastructure, geographical situation and local skills to give its plans for vertical launch significant credibility.
“When combined with the unending drive from those involved, CST has every confidence that Spaceport1 will be a commercial success and boost to local and national interests.
“Discussions have already begun about proposed test launches from the site later this year.
“Further community consultation events on the planned activities and the Spaceport1 project will take place over the summer as part of an on-going programme of engagement.”
Spaceport 1 aims to enable the launch of payloads of up to 500kg into sun synchronous and polar low earth orbits.
It will also support a wide range of related activities such as sub orbital launches, microgravity and associated experiments, engine testing, stage testing and research and development.