Opponents of the planned £17.3 million spaceport in Sutherland believe the Ministry of Defence wants to use it to launch ballistic missiles.
John Williams, chairman of the Protect the Mhoine campaign group, was quoted in local media saying:
“If it is a commercial success they will want to be involved and if it is a failure they will step in to save it. They will end up with a missile site – capable of firing ballistic missiles – without the opprobrium they would have got if they had proposed the project originally. They want a ballistic missile site on the north coast. One thing we know about the MoD is that they do not give up.”
However, the MoD said (quite accurately too given they have no land based ballistic missiles or any plans to procure them):
“We have no plans to use this site for missile launches.”
A spokesman for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said:
“We are developing plans for Space Hub Sutherland as a vertical launch site for small satellites, and no other purpose.”
The UK Space Agency had earlier selected Lockheed Martin to establish vertical launch operations in Sutherland, Scotland.
The company will also ‘develop innovative technologies’ in Reading, Berkshire with support from two UK Space Agency grants totalling £23.5 million. A further £5.5 million will go to British company Orbex to build an innovative new rocket for launch from Sutherland, as part of Government’s modern Industrial Strategy.
The government say that this builds on awards of £2.5m to Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop a vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland and a £2m development fund for horizontal spaceports such as those planned in Cornwall, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia
Under the plans, global space leader Lockheed Martin and innovative spaceflight company Orbex will launch rockets (not ballistic missiles) into space from the north coast of Scotland.
Earlier in the year, we reported that Orbex had announced that it is partnering with UK based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) to carry an experimental payload on its maiden flight from Scotland in 2021.
The first launch of the Orbex Prime rocket will represent a first for the UK space industry, showcasing the UK’s end to end satellite launch capability, combining a UK rocket, a UK satellite and a UK launch site.