Sutherland spaceport

Coordinates: 58°30′39″N 4°30′44″W / 58.5107°N 4.5121°W / 58.5107; -4.5121
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Sutherland spaceport
Artist's rendering of Orbex Prime's takeoff from the Sutherland spaceport.
LocationSutherland, Scotland
Coordinates58°30′39″N 4°30′44″W / 58.5107°N 4.5121°W / 58.5107; -4.5121
Orbital inclination
90° (polar orbit)
Sun-synchronous orbit[1]
Launch history
First launchNET Q2 2024 (planned)
Orbex Prime[2][1]

The Sutherland spaceport, also known as Space Hub Sutherland or UK Vertical Launch (UKVL) Sutherland, is a planned spaceport to be located in Sutherland in Scotland. It would be the first vertical launch capable spaceport in the United Kingdom,[note 1] and operated by a commercial entity. The spaceport is intended to support the Orbex Prime launch vehicle.[2][1] The spaceport will be located on the A' Mhòine peninsula northwest of Tongue village, Sutherland, Scotland. Groundbreaking occurred on 5 May 2023.[4]


The facility will be operated by a commercial Launch Pad Operator, and Orbex was given a lease to both build and operate the spaceport in 2022.[5] The proposed spaceport is expected to employ some 40 people directly and with another 400 jobs supported indirectly. Initial development was through the local development agency, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).[6][7][8]

The submitted planning application shows that the spaceport will host a planned new rocket called Prime by the startup company Orbex.[2][1] The facility was originally planned to be shared by both Orbex and Lockheed Martin, and to potentially use two separate launch pads, as the two rockets use different propellants. However, the final planning application includes only one launch pad.[1] In October 2020, the UK Space Agency announced that Lockheed Martin had selected Shetland Space Centre on Unst, while Orbex will remain at Sutherland.[9]


The proposed site for the spaceport is on the north coast of Scotland, north of the A838 on the Mhòine peninsula.[10]
  • LSIF=Launch Site Integration Facility
  • LOCC=Launch Operations Control Centre

The location at A' Mhòine peninsula was considered alongside two other Scottish locations: Unst, Shetland and North Uist, Western Isles, and is the only one of these three on the mainland. For all three locations the particular value is in having a clear northern coast which allows rockets to launch due north without problems from land areas under the flight path. The northerly flight path can place small satellites into polar orbit and Sun-synchronous orbit.[1] The site is 35 miles (56 km) from the closed Dounreay nuclear research reactor, and HIE is seeking £5 million of Nuclear Decommissioning grants to offset the loss of Dounreay jobs.[11]

The nearest community to the spaceport is the crofting township of Talmine, alongside the Kyle of Tongue, with a population of 200.[2][12] The space hub proposed site is within the 2,464 acres (997 ha) Melness Crofters Estate, of which 13 acres (5.3 ha) will be leased to HIE and enclosed to secure the spaceport infrastructure. The surrounding land is common grazing for the crofters, who will be required (with due compensation) to clear livestock from a wider exclusion zone on launch days. Permission has been granted for a maximum of 12 launches per year from the spaceport.[13]

Launch operation[edit]

Although the spaceport applications and permissions were completed by HIE, a development agency,[13] a commercial operator was always intended,[14] and in 2022 the site was subleased to Orbex who had originally been involved as one of the rocket suppliers. By 2020 Orbex was the only launch company expecting to use the site, with plans for a single launch pad with up to 12 launches a year of their Orbex Prime rockets. Using bio-propane, the Orbex Prime rocket aims to have a significantly lower carbon impact compared to other rocket fuels. The rockets and engines are to be made at Orbex's Forres manufacturing plant, near Inverness, using 3D printing. They are aiming for re-usability for the booster stage, and full mass recovery so that no rocket materials are left on land or sea or in space.[15] The first three launches, which are projected to start in Mid to Late 2024, would carry payloads up to 125 kg, to allow for testing margins and extra instrumentation.[16] Amongst the six contracts that Orbex had signed up for satellite launches is In-Space Missions, who have booked the second flight for the launch of their Faraday-2b spacecraft which itself holds six or more cubesats.[16] When fully operational the Orbex Prime is expected to have a payload capacity of 180 kg.[14]

The spaceport will occupy some 13 acres (5.3 ha) of land to be leased from the Melness Crofters Estate, forming three enclosed areas within the common grazing moorland of the 2,464 acres (997 ha) estate. Around launch days the crofters will be required, with due compensation, to clear their livestock from an exclusion zone.[13]

The three enclosed areas will all be accessed from a new roadway running north-west from the A838. Alongside the entranceway will be the Launch Operations Control Centre (LOCC). This is to have low visual impact from the road, with a planted Green roof housing facilities to control the launch and panoramic glass windows facing towards the launchpad.[17] Some 2 km north-west is the Launch Site Integration Facility (LSIF), including a building for assembly of launch vehicles and their payloads and an Antennae Park with satellite tracking and telemetry equipment. Around 0.5 km north of the LSIF, linked by an access rail, will be the launchpad, incorporating facilities for storage and management of the bio-propane and liquid oxygen.[18]


The proposed site was first announced in July 2018 at the Farnborough Air Show and had hoped it might be ready for first launches in 2020.[19][2] The project was initially called UKVL Sutherland,[20] with the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) working in conjunction with the UK Space Agency, and two potential launch operators, Orbex and Lockheed Martin.[20][21] The proposed cost of the spaceport construction was £17.3 million, with £2.5 million to be provided by the UK government.[19][22] The expectation was that two launch pads would be required, to cope with the different fuel types, namely bio-propane for Orbex, and RP-1 for Lockheed Martin's as yet undisclosed vehicle.[23]

Initially there was mixed support amongst the local crofters. In November 2018, the Melness Crofters Estate (MCE) voted on whether to continue discussions about the proposal. Twenty-seven votes were cast in favour, with eighteen against and one spoiled ballot.[20]

On 31 July 2019 HIE signed a lease for the proposed site with the Melness Crofters Estate and in September 2019 they began a formal public consultation phase, ahead of the formal application for planning consent, which was filed in December 2019.[24] Planning permission was granted by Highland Council on 5 August 2020 after the Scottish government chose to make no interventions on the decision. Application had then to be made to the Scottish Land Court to get permission to enclose the common grazing land, at a hearing still to held.[13] With regulator approval to move forward, construction was planned to begin in 2021 with the hope of a first launch before the end of 2022.[25] However, Groundbreaking on the site didn't start until May 2023 with an estimated completion of around August 2024. [26]The planning consent was for a single launchpad and an upper limit of 12 flights per year.[17]

In October 2020 Lockheed Martin announced that they were pulling out of the Sutherland Space Hub partnership and had shifted their plans in favour of a launch from the Shetland Space Centre (SSC) on the island of Unst.[27] The reasons for this appear to relate to the difficulties of having only a single launch pad and a restricted number of launch dates. By using the Shetland site, which aims to be specifically geared up for multiple launch providers with potentially three launch pads and fewer launch restrictions, Lockheed Martin hoped to avoid the possible backlog of launch dates that might have resulted at Sutherland Space Hub.[28]

A legal attempt to overturn the planning permission was made by Anders Holch Povlsen's company 'Wildland', which was rejected by the court in 2022.[29] With the legalities resolved HIE was able to sub-lease, for 50 years, the spaceport site for the construction and operational phases of the project to Orbex, the company that is also developing the rockets and engines that will be launched there.[5] A £30 million funding round was followed by the appointment of Jacobs Solutions as main contractors and on 4 May 2023 Orbex announced a 'ground-breaking' milestone, marking the start of the construction phase.[4][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ It was initially expected to be the first spaceport of any kind, though Spaceport Cornwall subsequently hosted a horizontal launch in 2023.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Scotland site selected as launch base for Lockheed Martin, Orbex. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now. 16 July 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Carrell, Severin; Morris, Steven; Sample, Ian (16 July 2018). "Rocket men: locals divided over plans for UK's first spaceport". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Morris, Steven (9 January 2023). "UK's first orbital rocket mission takes off from Cornwall". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 January 2023.
  4. ^ a b Clark, Stephen (8 May 2023). "Start of construction paves way for first UK mainland vertical launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Martin (1 November 2022). "Orbex to Lead Construction and Operational Management of Sutherland Spaceport". Orbex Space News. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  6. ^ "Space, not Brexit, is final frontier for Scottish outpost". Agence France Presse. 20 July 2018.
  7. ^ Chris McCall (19 July 2018). "Forget Cape Canaveral, Scotland's first spaceport proves small is beautiful". The Scotsman.
  8. ^ Kenneth Macdonald (16 July 2018). "Sutherland prepares for spaceport launch". BBC News.
  9. ^ "Shetland spaceport boosts UK's plans for launch". GOV.UK.
  10. ^ "Sutherland Space Hub". HIE. 3 February 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  11. ^ "Space Hub Sutherland". Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  12. ^ Nigel Nelson (14 July 2018). "Brits take one step closer to moon as Sutherland in Scotland named as first UK spaceport". The Mirror (UK).
  13. ^ a b c d "Space Hub Sutherland Application Submitted to Scottish Land Court". Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 30 August 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Space Hub Sutherland FAQs: How many satellites could be launched at once?". Highlands and Islands Enterprise. 30 August 2020. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  15. ^ "Go-ahead for Space Hub Sutherland starts countdown to launch of Orbex Prime from Scotland". Orbex Space News. 26 June 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  16. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (7 August 2019). "Orbex wins launch contract from In-Space Missions/". SpaceNews. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  17. ^ a b "The Highland Council: Planning Application Documents for Construction of vertical launch space port". 5 August 2020. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  18. ^ Highlands and Islands Enterprise (February 2020). Space Hub Sutherland: Environmental Impact Assessment Report (PDF) (Report). Vol. 1. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  19. ^ a b "UK spaceport proposed for Sutherland site". BBC News. 16 July 2018. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  20. ^ a b c "Sutherland spaceport project to move to next stage". Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  21. ^ "Crofters give their backing to rockets galore". Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  22. ^ "UK Government funding for vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland". Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  23. ^ Jonathan Amos (16 July 2018). "Lift-off for Scotland: Sutherland to host first UK spaceport". BBC Science & Environment. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  24. ^ Bergin, Chris (4 September 2019). "UK Spaceport at Sutherland enters public consultation phase".
  25. ^ Scottish spaceport formally approved by Highland Council, William Graham,, 20 August 2020.
  26. ^ Environmental Impact Assessment Report: Volume 1: Non-Technical Summary, HIE,, February 2020.
  27. ^ Foust, Jeff (22 October 2020). "Lockheed Martin shifts U.K. launch site". SpaceNews. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  28. ^ "The Race Is On As The UK Goes Ahead With The Approval Of The Shetland Space Centre". Orbital Today. 2 November 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  29. ^ Ross, John (5 April 2022). "Spaceport: Landowner signs agreement with HIE over Sutherland satellite launch plans". The Press and Journal. Retrieved 8 May 2023.
  30. ^ Bergin, Chris (4 May 2023). "Orbex breaks ground on Sutherland Spaceport as UK prepares to enter domestic launch market". NSF - Retrieved 8 May 2023.