By Jenness Mitchell and Iain Ramage
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has been given the option to lease the site of a proposed spaceport.
Representatives from HIE and Melness Crofters Estate (MCE), which owns the development land on the Moine peninsula, signed an agreement on Wednesday which secures the option for HIE to lease the land once planning consent for the project has been granted.
HIE is leading the £17.5m Space Hub Sutherland project, which includes a £2.5m grant from the UK Space Agency – which is also funding two launch companies that plan to use the facility.
Design work and scoping for environmental impact studies are well under way.
A planning application is currently being prepared and, if approved, could see construction start in 2020.
Roy Kirk, HIE’s Space Hub Sutherland project director, said: “Space Hub Sutherland development is expected to generate many social and economic benefits for different parts of the region.
“We have maintained constructive dialogue with the Melness Crofters Estate throughout the process. We are very grateful to them for their input and cooperation and welcome this key stage in the project.”
Dorothy Pritchard, MCE chair, added: “We look forward to continuing our links with HIE, and to working with the launch companies and site operator to maximise job opportunities and community benefits for our area.
“We know there is a long way to go and that the next step is to go through to the planning stage.
“Like everyone else, we want to make sure the environmental and safety aspects of the proposed development are thoroughly examined and fully addressed as part of the process.”
In March, HIE appointed architectural firm NORR Consultants to lead on producing designs for the space hub. The agency is also working to secure a commercial operator for the facility.
Orbex, a UK-based spaceflight company, has been chosen to launch from the proposed spaceport.
Following the agreement between HIE and MCE, Orbex CEO Chris Larmour said: “We welcome this very positive step forward.
“We look forward to working closely with the local community in the years to come, and we expect to have many locals working directly on the space launch programme as colleagues, ultimately helping the UK’s National Space Programme to begin launching satellites into space.
“That launch capability will be a first in continental Europe, and will offer a host of benefits, enabling new markets and enlarging the UK’s share of the global space economy.”