Sutherland spaceport reconfigures design in effort to satisfy environmental concerns

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea.

The Sutherland spaceport being built in the north of Scotland has announced plans to shrink its size in order to satisfy environmental concerns, likely raised by the many bureaucrats in the United Kingdom that have to approve its spaceport license.

Orbex is now consulting with the local community on proposed changes, including a smaller launch pad, to better protect the surrounding environment. There will also be smaller access roads, and the size of the integration facility, where rockets are assembled before launch, is to be reduced.

The company said: “These changes will make the building footprint smaller, leading to a reduction in peat disturbance and a lower impact on the groundwater ecosystem. The visual impact of the site will also be reduced, and there will be less disturbance to local watercourse crossings, with mammal migration paths widened to better preserve the natural environment.

Orbex has signed a 50-year lease to use this spaceport, and has been building its Prime rocket in a facility nearby. It had hoped to complete a first launch in 2023, but that is clearly not going to happen. It had applied for a launch license in February 2022, but apparently the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the United Kingdom has still not issued it, almost two years later.

Much of the environmental opposition to the Sutherland spaceport was initially instigated by a billionaire who had invested in the competing Saxaford spaceport on the Shetland Islands. Though his lawsuit was dismissed in August 2021, this does not mean that the opposition by him and others has ceased.

Overall, it appears that like at SaxaVord in Shetland, work at Sutherland has significantly slowed in recent months. It appears both are being blocked for regulatory reasons, delays that once again provide an opportunity for the spaceports being developed in Norway and Sweden.

Orbex signs 50-year lease at Sutherland spaceport

The British startup rocket company Orbex has signed a 50-year lease to operate its own launchpad at the Space Hub Sutherland spaceport in Scotland.

The company will lease Space Hub Sutherland from a local development agency for an initial period of 50 years with an option to extend for a further 25 years. Orbex will soon commence construction at the 10-acre launch site on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland. The bulk of the construction work will be contracted out to technology solutions company Jacobs, which also does a lot of work for NASA.

The company hopes to launch its Prime rocket in ’23. At present it is testing launch operations of a prototype on its launchpad. All told, Orbex has raised a little over $100 million in private investment capital.

Rocket startup Orbex raises another $45 million

The British-based rocket startup company Orbex announced today that it has successfully raised another $45 million in private investment capital, adding to the $63 million it had previously raised.

Orbex is developing Prime, a small launch vehicle designed to place up to 180 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The vehicle, built by the company at a factory in Forres, Scotland, will launch initially from Space Hub Sutherland, a new launch site under development in northern Scotland.

“With Orbex, we will have a rocket assembled in Scotland, launching from Scotland and likely transporting satellites built in Scotland into orbit,” said Nicola Douglas, executive director of the Scottish National Investment Bank, in a statement. “We’re building a full end-to-end commercial space ecosystem in Scotland and we’re proud to play our part in this funding round.”

The company is targeting 2023 for its first launch from the new spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland.

Orbex applies for UK launch license

Capitalism in space: The British smallsat rocket company Orbex has now submitted its application for a launch license to the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The press release does not mention a launch date, but it does state that ground tests of Orbex’s Prime rocket, designed to launch smallsats, are about to begin.

The Orbex ‘Prime’ rocket is soon to be tested on the Orbex LP1 launch platform at a facility in Kinloss, close to the Orbex headquarters in Forres, where full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures will take place.

Actual launches will take place at Space Hub Sutherland in Scotland. A previous announcement in 2020 had suggested the first launch would occur in ’22. Whether that date can still be met is unclear, but without doubt Orbex is moving forward towards launch.