UK Government Breaks Regulatory Barriers, Clearing Path for Satellite Launches

Posted on 27 May 2021

Exciting developments are on the horizon for the proposed £17.3m satellite launch project in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, as ground investigations are set to commence this week. Tasked with this critical task are two renowned organisations, Bam Nuttall and Arup, acting on behalf of the regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). The overarching goal of these investigations is to transform the envisioned Space Hub Sutherland into a cutting-edge facility capable of launching small commercial satellites into orbit, with a potential for up to 12 rocket launches per year.

Over the next six weeks, the diligent survey team will meticulously study various aspects of the site spanning 4.2 hectares. Their comprehensive analysis will encompass an in-depth examination of the soil composition, the underlying bedrock, the intricate network of groundwater, and the presence of ground gases. The wealth of information gathered through these investigations will play a pivotal role in shaping the detailed design of the foundations, access roads, and buildings that will constitute the spaceport control centre and launch pad. This meticulous planning will ensure that the infrastructure is robust, resilient, and optimally suited to facilitate the launch and control of satellites.

While progress is being made on multiple fronts, the project is not without its share of legal challenges. The eminent Court of Session, Scotland's highest court, is scheduled to undertake a judicial review of the planning approval granted by the Highland Council in August of the previous year. This review, specifically sought by Wildland—a privately held company that owns adjacent land—will take place next month, subjecting the project to careful scrutiny and deliberation. The approval from the Scottish Land Court, necessitated by the existence of grazing rights on the site, is another critical hurdle that HIE must overcome. To ensure the safety and success of launches, HIE has proposed compensating local crofters and implementing measures to keep livestock outside the extensive 690-hectare exclusion zone. Currently, hearings are underway to address these matters and seek resolutions that satisfy all stakeholders involved.

Despite these challenges, a significant breakthrough has been achieved with the UK Government's recent announcement of new regulations. The Department for Transport (DfT) revealed that these regulations, set to take effect this summer, will unlock the potential for satellite launches from the UK. Developed in close collaboration with the UK Space Agency and Civil Aviation Authority, these regulatory advancements pave the way for the realisation of the ambitious project. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps exuded optimism and national pride as he expressed the UK's aspiration to be at the forefront of orbital launches in Europe, with the possibility of inaugural launches taking place as early as 2022. The Department for Transport also acknowledged ongoing spaceport initiatives in Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland, emphasising the nationwide significance of these ventures.

Highlighting the profound economic and employment opportunities that the expansion of launch capabilities will bring, Science Minister Amanda Solloway underscored the positive impact that the newly introduced Space Industry Regulations will have on the UK's burgeoning space sector. These regulations have been meticulously crafted to foster a supportive, attractive, and safe environment for commercial spaceflight. As the project progresses, it holds the promise of creating a vibrant ecosystem that intertwines technological advancement, scientific exploration, and economic growth, firmly establishing the UK as a pioneering force in the realm of space exploration and launch capabilities.

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