Plans unveiled for vertical launch spaceport on island

Plans to create a vertical launch commercial spaceport on a Scottish island have been unveiled by a development consortium.

It is proposing to build a spaceport at Scolpaig, on the north-west coast of North Uist, where rockets would be launched vertically, offering access to sun synchronous and polar orbits.

The consortium behind the Spaceport 1 project is led by Western Isles Council which has agreed to invest around £1 million to purchase the land for the launch facility.

The project, said to be the UK’s first vertical launch commercial spaceport, will create 50 to 70 jobs.

Roddie Mackay, leader of Western Isles Council, said: “This is a critical strategic investment for the Comhairle and the North Uist community.

“The economic benefits that would flow from this project are immense and we are delighted to offer it our full backing.”

The consortium consists of Western Isles Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), QinetiQ and Commercial Space Technologies (CST), a UK-based consultancy and satellite launch broker.

Spaceport 1 aims to enable the launch of payloads of up to 500kg into sun synchronous and polar low earth orbits and will also support a wide range of related activities such as sub-orbital launches, microgravity and associated experiments, engine testing, stage testing and research and development.

The consortium said that through a partnership with QinetiQ, which operates the nearby MOD Hebrides Range, the project will benefit from proven launch vehicle technology, existing intelligent systems and access to the largest area of segregated air space in Europe.

Alan Webb, director at Commercial Space Technologies, said: “CST is delighted to be part of the Spaceport 1 journey. We have been following the story of spaceports in the UK for over 10 years and we identified early on that North Uist has the necessary infrastructure, geographical situation and local skills to give its plans for vertical launch significant credibility.

“When combined with the unending drive from those involved, CST has every confidence that Spaceport 1 will be a commercial success and boost to local and national interests.”

Discussions about proposed test launches later this year have already begun.

Further community consultation events will take place over the summer as part of an ongoing programme of engagement.

The consortium is developing the site in phases with the first stage to provide the basic infrastructure already under way.