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Orbex begins construction at Sutherland Spaceport

May 5, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Orbex says that construction has begun at Sutherland Spaceport (formerly known as Space Hub Sutherland) in Scotland, making this the first vertical launch spaceport to be built on the UK mainland.

Located on the North coast of Scotland, the spaceport will be the ‘home’ spaceport of Forres-based rocket and launch services company, Orbex, which will use the site to launch up to 12 orbital rockets per year for the deployment of satellites into Earth’s orbit.

The establishment of a commercial spaceport in Sutherland is expected to support around 250 new employment opportunities in the Highlands and Islands over the coming years, including 40 jobs in Sutherland and Caithness. Economic impact assessments commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) conclude that the presence of the spaceport has the potential to generate almost £1 billion in gross value added (GVA) for the Highlands and Islands economy over the next 30 years.

It was also confirmed that the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will contribute £3 million to support the development of Sutherland Spaceport, completing a public investment package that also includes just over £9 million from HIE and the Scottish Government and £2.55 million that the UK Space Agency announced in 2018. The NDA chose to support Sutherland Spaceport following the decommissioning of the nearby Dounreay nuclear power station, as part of its remit to retire the UK’s oldest nuclear sites while supporting affected communities and the environment.

Orbex has a 50-year sub-lease on the Sutherland site.

Jacobs, the international professional and technical services company, has been contracted for the construction of the site as well as spaceport operations support, operations consultancy and engineering services, drawing on its experience of managing and operating complex, highly regulated nuclear and space-related sites. Jacobs has supported US space agency NASA across multiple high-profile Space Centers and spaceflight programmes, including management of operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Closer to home, Jacobs has also managed significant aspects of the Dounreay nuclear site on the North Coast of Scotland.

Sutherland Spaceport is intended to become the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and its operation.

Orbex says it has received widespread interest from commercial satellite manufacturers and has already signed launch contracts with seven customers. The company also recently concluded its Series C funding round, netting the company an additional £40.4 million. Despite a challenging landscape for raising capital, Orbex attracted new investors and brought along many of its existing investors into the new round of funding. The additional funding allows the company to maintain its long-term focus beyond the first launch.

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