Scotland is set to host Britain’s first spaceport, with ministers awarding two firms £29m funding to establish vertical launch operations and develop other innovative technologies.
Business department BEIS said Government support for the projects is ‘the first step towards a potential Space Sector Deal and the development of a national space programme’.
Artist impression of spaceport
The UK Space Agency has awarded Highlands and Islands Enterprise £2.5m to develop a vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland.
It will also fund two firms to launch rockets into space from the site in the North of Scotland.
US firm Lockheed Martin will get two separate grants worth a combined £23.5m to establish vertical launch operations at Sutherland using existing technology and to develop an ‘innovative’ new system in Reading for deploying small satellites.
In addition, UK-based Orbex will receive £5.5m to build a new rocket for launch from the site.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘The UK’s space sector is thriving and satellite benefits our lives every day, from banking to transport, and agriculture to entertainment.
‘Today’s announcement is not only exciting for Sutherland, but with industry expertise up and down the country it will drive growth and further regional opportunities in England, Scotland and Wales.’
Lockheed Martin’s new system for deploying small satellites is known as an orbital manoeuvring vehicle and will be the upper stage of its rocket. It will deploy up to six small satellites to separate orbits.
Orbex’s orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, will deliver small satellites into orbit, using a renewable bio-propane, which officials said cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to hydrocarbon fuels.
Officials said the UK Space Agency selected the Sutherland site because Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets.
Artist's impression of vertical launch from UK spaceport
The Government’s Industrial Strategy identified spaceports as a key economic opportunity and a priority for the UK’s space strategy.
Although the Sutherland project will develop vertical launch operations, officials said that horizontal launch sites also ‘have significant potential in a future UK spaceflight market’.
Sites at Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and North Wales will get access to a new £2m fund to grow their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane plans.