Last week’s poll: the UK’s Scottish spaceport plan

Britain will add value to its thriving space sector if sites for vertical and horizontal launches from UK soil come to fruition.

UK spaceport

The prospect of UK spaceports is far from new but last week business secretary Greg Clark gave a firm indication that plans are being converted into policy.

Clark used Farnborough International Airshow 2018 to announce a £50m UK space launch fund, some of which will be steered toward the UK’s first spaceport on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland, on Scotland’s north coast.

Farnborough was the setting four years ago for the announcement of eight sites seen as suitable for spaceport development, with six of these being north of the border.

Now that the countdown has begun to build a UK spaceport, we asked if Sutherland – described on these pages as a ‘boggy peninsula’ – is the right place for vertical launches, and whether a horizontal launch site would have been a better option given the advanced state of development of Virgin Galactic’s Launcher One system, and the possibility of the UK spaceplane Skylon. Similarly, does the current absence of a UK-made and operated vertical launch technology increase Britain’s reliance on overseas launch operators?

UK spaceport
Artist’s impression of the proposed spaceport on the A’Mhoine peninsula Image: Perfect Circle

The subject attracted 580 votes with just over half (53 per cent) agreeing that Sutherland will provide a boost to UK space, followed by 27 per cent who said it’s a good idea to build the vertical launch site, but not in the proposed location.

Of the remaining fifth of respondents, 11 per cent thought a horizontal UK spaceport would be better, two per cent said it would increase reliance on foreign launchers, and seven per cent couldn’t find a fit, opting instead for none of the above.

The Poll has so far attracted 38 comments, with edited highlights below addressing the siting of the Sutherland spaceport

“If they need to be as far north as they can get for polar orbital satellites then Orkney or Shetland – with convenient harbours and airfields – are much easier to get to,” said Steve Boyd.

Martin Nunn added: “The whole idea for the furthest Northern point is because it will be for small spacecraft only on polar orbits. Where the UK is makes it very difficult for any other kind of orbit – not near enough to the equator for help with the slingshot effect and far too close to all the other European countries to launch in any direction… Except North, where it is mostly deep water.”

Looking west, Peter Bessey noted: “The number of times that launches have been postponed at Cape Canaveral…would suggest that the North of Scotland’s often atrocious weather systems could well cause frequent problems for such a spaceport location. Surely that might create an unreliable and thus, unprofitable environment?”

“The site is a ‘pristine’ part of one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Europe, let alone Scotland,” said Nick Cole. “There is complete lack of infrastructure, no sea access, no major road access, no power infrastructure. The only thing going for it is that there is a clear uninhabited area of sea for failed rockets to fall in.”

What do you think? Keep the conversation flowing using comments below.