Detailed ground investigations are due to begin this week at the site of a proposed £17.3m satellite launch project in the Scottish Highlands.
Bam Nuttall and Arup will conduct the work on behalf of regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which plans to establish Space Hub Sutherland as a facility capable of placing small commercial satellites into orbit via up to 12 rocket launches a year.
Over the next six weeks the survey team will study soil and bedrock at the 4.2 hectare site, to inform the detailed design of foundations, access roads and buildings, including the spaceport control centre and launch pad. The investigation will also assess groundwater and ground gases at the peatland site.
The project still faces legal hurdles, however. Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session, will next month undertake a judicial review of planning approval granted in August last year by the Highland Council. The review was secured by lawyers acting for Wildland, a privately held company that owns substantial tracts of neighbouring land.
HIE also requires approval from the Scottish Land Court, with the site subject to grazing rights. Livestock would need to be kept out of a 690-hectare exclusion zone during launches, with HIE proposing compensation for local crofters. Hearings on that topic are taking place this week.
The UK Government has cleared one other major barrier to the project. Yesterday, the Department for Transport announced new regulations allowing satellite launches from the UK will come into effect this summer. The new rules were developed by the UK Space Agency and Civil Aviation Authority.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “We want to be the first country to launch into orbit from Europe”, adding that the first launches could take place “from 2022”. The DfT said spaceport projects are under way in Cornwall and Wales as well as in Scotland.
Science minister Amanda Solloway said: “Continuing to grow our launch capability will help bring jobs and economic benefits across the UK. The Space Industry Regulations we’ve tabled today will create a supportive, attractive and safe environment for commercial spaceflight.”