“Nothing has changed” in the race to bring a spaceport to Unst.
That was the message delivered by Shetland Space Centre director Frank Strang following news that Sutherland looked set to become the first site in the UK to house a vertical satellite launch base.
Social media speculation suggested that plans to bring a launch site to Lamba Ness in Unst had hit a brick wall after the Sutherland bid was granted funding from the UK government.
But Mr Strang quashed those claims, saying that the Sutherland bid had been awarded money from a fund which Shetland Space Centre had not applied for.
Speaking from the Farnborough Airshow on Monday, Mr Strang said the Shetland Space Centre continued to pursue a launch licence for Unst, backed by industry heavyweights and the UK Space Agency (UKSA).
“Shetland will have a strong and established position in the UK Space Industry by 2020, of that we are 100 per cent confident”, he said.
Mr Strang’s comments followed confirmation that Sutherland, in the Scottish Highlands, would house a spaceport from which micro-satellites could be launched.
The UK Space Agency is to give Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) £2.5 million towards developing the site in the A’Mhoine Peninsula.
HIE will work alongside American aerospace firm Lockheed Martin with an aim of having launches begin early in the 2020s. A planning application is expected to be submitted to the Highland Council next year.
Sutherland was one of three potential spaceport locations which submitted outline business cases to the board of HIE earlier this year. The others were at Scolpaig in North Uist, and Unst.
All three were assessed by independent consultants with specialist knowledge of the space sector and each one met key criteria.
However, the business case for Sutherland was said to be stronger overall, including being successfully awarded UKSA funding for its proposals in collaboration with potential launch operators.
HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright said the Sutherland project could act as a catalyst “to stimulate further space-related investment” across the Highlands and Islands.
“The international space sector is set to grow very significantly in the coming years, and we want to ensure that our businesses are ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated,” she said.
It is understood that funding will be available for further spaceports with the government viewing the Sutherland project as the first step on the way to a national space programme.