To Infinity and Beyond

The A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland has been announced, to some fanfare, as the host of the UK’s first Spaceport (whatever that is). The Indy reports, in a sentence that requires some deconstruction this will mean “paving the way for “space tourism’ that could be worth £4bn to the UK economy.”

The announcement raises a number of significant questions, almost none of which have been asked, never mind answered. Here’s some of them:

1. Who are space tourists, and how many of them currently live in Sutherland?
2. What is the role of Lockheed Martin in the enterprise?
3. What efforts are being made bring sustainable employment to the highlands?
4. What will the environmental impact of a Spaceport be on the surrounding area in construction and operation? Who has carried out the assessment, where can we read it?
5. What is the role of the NC500 on ‘approving’ this project? Who appointed them to approve anything?
6. How many people will be employed in the Spaceport?
7. How does this project fit within the idea of a ‘circular economy’?
8. What regulatory framework will cover the activities and development of a Spaceport?
9. What is the military potential for the A’Mhoine peninsula, and what reproach is being done into its potential?
10. What is space mining, and how does it fit within the Scottish Government’s environmental strategy?

Everybody loves space, and everyone loves technology, mostly because they allow us to dream of a possible future, when the present seems so disappointing and broken. We imagine Scottie, and project backwards to our glorious past of innovation and invention and forward to Jetpacks and phasers. We are nostalgic for a promised future. Everyone knows the highlands needs jobs, lots of jobs and needs to address the rural housing crisis. But these two things seem to have very little to connect them.

The excitement of nationalists to construct and project a vision of a future Scotland: which is thriving, booming, forward looking is understandable. But this seems like a ludicrous proposal based on a core vision of ‘space tourism’ for the super rich and seems wholly inappropriate for Sutherland. As we grow more desperate for jobs and economic activity we are more and more easily conned into grasping at whatever crumbs are offered to us.

Scotland is leading the UK’s space industry and this is good. The highlands needs jobs. We could and should repopulate the highlands and be bold and innovative about industry and enterprise we bring to this. None of these things are in question. But what seems to be being proposed appears to have just landed from space without any process or thinking about sustainability, resilience or impact and then be being celebrated without question. The idea radically expands the current state of play, with the highlands constructed as a playground for the rich, whether they be shooting off to space or shooting grouse, whether they be bagging a stag or racing around the North Coast 500 in high performance cars. It has the potential to further the current state of play with large parts of the highlands militarised and used as a test ground for war games. What has any of this to do with bringing long-term employment to local communities? What has any of this to do with creating a local economy?

To the question we asked yesterday “How is it possible to have infinite growth on a finite planet?” – the answer seems to be “it’s not so lets try elsewhere”.

When we are imagining a new Scotland, we should base that thinking on models, structures and values that are different from the broken failed ones we are trying to escape.

 

Comments (20)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Roland says:

    The bbc report suggests it is for small satellite launches 10-100kg not tourists- we could sure use more support for improving the Edwardian road network and some hi tech jobs.

  2. Erik Sandberg says:

    I would also like to know what the role of Lockheed Martin is in this. A company that deals in the slaughter of human beings shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Scottish shores. I can see how this is gonna play out.

    1. Welsh Sion says:

      Erik,

      Could you contact me via email on llddc01@yahoo.com, please. I would like to discuss various matters with you.

      Thanks.

  3. Ian Sommerville says:

    The article in the Independent is unscientific drivel by someone who knows nothing about engineering. The proposed spaceport has nothing to do with space tourism and there will never be manned (personned?) launches from Scotland or anywhere else in the British Isles. There are real issues about here employment and the environment in this proposal but you shouldn’t get too outraged about idiotic journalistic speculation.

  4. Mike Harland says:

    Interestingly NC500 address on site does not seem to correspond with Companies House last registered address of 2016 : North Coast 500 Limited, 17 Old Edinburgh Road, Inverness, IV2 3HF
    Company Number: SC504749
    Nature of business (SIC) 79901 – Activities of tourist guides

    As of May 2018, 75% controlled by North Highland Initiative:
    Nature of business (SIC) 82990 – Other business support service activities not elsewhere classified

  5. JimA says:

    The U.K. Space Agency, a U.K. government agency has awarded Lockheed $31 m and Orbex $7 m contracts to further this. As you rightly point out what consultation has there been and where can we see details of proposals? How did Lockheed get awarded this contract; is there no U.K. firm able to take this forward? Orbex is a satellite launching business but if there is no where to launch from for years to come, why have they received such a large contract? I’d love to see the justification for the remoteness of the site and how it will impact on the local economy. Currently it’s a U.K. government project that crosses a lot of the Scottish Government’s areas of responsibility so again it would be good to see the proposals to understand the impact.

  6. Dougie Blackwood says:

    You rightly ask questions on this, few of which have been answered.

    The other side of the coin is that this proposal for a spaceport in Sutherland chimes with the wishes of the Space satellite business in Scotland. A launch facility for commercial satellites in Scotland would be a wonderful bonus and significant cost saving for them.

    If we can build and launch these things from Scotland safely and without too much environmental damage there is the potential to build a large and sustainable industry on the back of it. We can and do build the satellites but have to send them elsewhere for launch. If we set up a launch facility it is probable that we could attract a launcher rocket production plant.

    If this proposal is not just the usual moonshine let us wish it well and hope that is different from many other things germinated in Scotland where the brains and technology are tempted to go elsewhere for the benefit of others and the personal fortune of a few who go with it.

  7. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    It’s highly unlikely that space ‘tourists’ will ever get their millionaire tricks in a vertically launched rocket due to the massive acceleration and g-forces involved. If in any doubt check out the training programme and health requirements for astronaut acceptance.

  8. w.b.robertson says:

    what`s not to like? might provide a better road and some local jobs, perhaps even a few spin off ventures. however, I have no doubt that a certain Mr Gunn will be pronouncing on this subject.

  9. Magnus Davidson says:

    I’ve tried very briefly to answer some of your questions with information that’s in the public domain. I include personal opinion in 3,9, & 10.

    1. Who are space tourists, and how many of them currently live in Sutherland?

    This question is a good one but not related to the development in Sutherland. I’m sure there’s a number of potential Sutherland residents who will be potential space tourists but they will have to travel outwith the county to find somewhere they can travel to space from.

    The Moine vertical take-off launch site will launch micro satellites with a payload of less than 500kg for the telecommunications industry, weather forecasting and to take pictures of activity on earth such as monitoring climate change, erosion etc.

    As the satellites are in polar or sun-synchronous orbits it’s not advantageous to launch from the equator. The benefit from a northerly launch point over sea which is why Sutherland is a good choice.

    2. What is the role of Lockheed Martin in the enterprise?

    Lockheed Martin is part of the consortium and are receiving the majority of the pot which also includes developing a system to deploy small satellites in Reading. It’s envisaged that Lockheed will use one pad at The Moine whilst UK firm Orbex will use a second.

    3. What efforts are being made bring sustainable employment to the highlands?

    This deserves a whole article on its own and is fairly apparent to those who live in the region but for the benefit of those who don’t, HIE work well at bringing sustainable employment to the Highlands. HIE are not SE, that needs to be made very clear. If you look at the stushie Enterprise and Skills Review that should be apparent. HIE and HIDB have had many failures in the past and have critics but they succeed in their unique remit of social, economic and community development.

    4. What will the environmental impact of a Spaceport be on the surrounding area in construction and operation? Who has carried out the assessment, where can we read it?

    It’s not at the stage where these assessments have been done yet, or not in the public domain. As with every other planning development it will follow the normal procedures and you will be able to read this from the Highland Council website. It should be submitted late next year.

    5. What is the role of the NC500 on ‘approving’ this project? Who appointed them to approve anything?

    The NC500 was set up in March 2015 by the North Highland Initiative, a body set up with the involvement of Prince Charles to address challenges facing communities in the Far North. It has now become a standalone limited company. It was set up to improve businesses around the NC500 and from Facebook posts and comments it appears that they support the development due to this remit.

    6. How many people will be employed in the Spaceport?

    The development should create 40 jobs at the site and 400 in the supply chain. These 40 jobs will be in a fragile area so will be worth significantly more than 40 jobs in the central belt. The jobs will be hugely important in the transition of the Dounreay workforce as the project finishes decommissioning in the early 2030’s. It’s really difficult to convey to those who work don’t work in rural development how much more important a job is in a rural area compared to an urban area.

    7. How does this project fit within the idea of a ‘circular economy’?

    Small, cheap satellites such as those which will be launched at the Moine participate in the circular economy through operational efficiencies. This is the right direction for essential services.

    8. What regulatory framework will cover the activities and development of a Spaceport?

    I’m no expert but it looks like the UK Gov is legislating a new regulatory framework for UK spaceflight.

    9. What is the military potential for the A’Mhoine peninsula, and what reproach is being done into its potential?

    Presumably, as with other sites in rural Scotland, there’s potential but Cape Wrath is across the Kyle so it’s hard to see why they would use this civilian site for anything military when there’s a huge established military site next door.

    10. What is space mining, and how does it fit within the Scottish Government’s environmental strategy?

    No idea but it has nothing to do with development at the Moine.

    1. Hi Magnus – thanks very much for this contribution. It would be good to get more clarity about the projects actual intention as there seems to be a bit of haze through bad reporting. I’ll try and get more details.

      My concerns remain that we don’t really have coherent economic development plan that aligns with our sustainability and climate goals, and that we continue to design projects and activities based almost wholly on visitors and passing tourism, rather than with the local community in mind.

      I also cannot see why an arms company would invest in a project that has no military component or potential. That seems far fetched.

      1. Magnus Davidson says:

        I am entirely in agreement with you on both:

        “we don’t really have coherent economic development plan that aligns with our sustainability and climate goals”

        “we continue to design projects and activities based almost wholly on visitors and passing tourism, rather than with the local community in mind.”

        In regards to the development at the Moine, this has been a long term plan for a number of years to transition some of the Dounreay workforce into hitech engineering jobs. Naturally we’ll see incoming workers for some specialised roles but these are to be welcomed. You can’t repopulate the Highlands with people who already live here and immigration is welcome.

        Small scale industry like this is perfect for us here in the Highlands, in particular industry that utilises our geographic advantage. This is straight out of European S3 planning policy. If anything this is a good example of strategic and concerted effort at planning here in the Far North which is why I think it’s been well received by the 4 major parties here, the business sector, and the wider community.

        I can’t comment on the Lockheed Martin aspects but I share your concerns.

      2. Rentaghost says:

        On the point about Lockheed Martin, commercial space opportunities look like being a major growth industry for aerospace firms in the future – why wouldn’t they want to get into that market? Especially as Airbus and Boeing already have established footprints in this sector and companies like Space X are rapidly driving through the gap. For LM this is a good opportunity because they have a close relationship with the UK government as a seller of both products and services, and because they can leverage their previous experience in rocket technology (by which, of course, I mean Trident).

  10. BSA says:

    Most of the A ‘Mhoine peninsula is SSSI, as well as a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and a Special Area of Conservation under the Birds and Habitats Directive. These designations can produce a fair bit of populist hostility where developments promise jobs, but the Scottish Government has an international responsibility to protect their integrity and that looks problematic with this proposal.

  11. Blair Paterson says:

    We all love space well I don’t I could not care less if thre is water on Mars etc because I do know there are food banks on earth and that money should be spent on the people not on pie in the sky things like space also this is just another way to launch their nuclear weapons in case they lose faslane why are these things never based in London Scotland only gets what they England don’t want waken up see it for what it is a threat not a gift

  12. SleepingDog says:

    Maybe the intention is to create a ghost town in a remote area with some large-scale facilities whose construction could not be hidden from the public.

  13. Denis Mollison says:

    @Magnus Davidson

    Do you know anything more about where and how large the launch site will be?

    Looking at the conservation designations –
    http://gateway.snh.gov.uk/sitelink/searchmap.jsp
    – it seems likely it would be inland from the east side of the Moine, perhaps near Cnoc Eilig. I hope it won’t be near the west and north coasts, which have I think no designation – other than being mostly in the Geopark – but are spectacular, and important for wildlife.

    1. Magnus Davidson says:

      Hi Dennis,

      I’m afraid I don’t but it’s not going to be as massive as I would imagine most people would think it is. There’s some CGI images on CNSRP website which could give an indication. Also looking at other electron rocket site (Mahia in NZ) you can see the site’s aren’t huge
      (https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2018-03-14-173036.jpg). It’s anticipated the site will however host two pads.

      I know that they’re looking at a 4km exclusion zone for launches so I’m not sure how that a north east location would fit with Talmine and the other houses there.

      I guess we’ll find out more next year with the planning application.

      I’m in agreement that the views from that side of the Moine are spectacular but I’m in no worry that the development will detract from these. The money invested should hopefully answer some of the questions about the impact on wildlife and the environment.

      1. Mike Harland says:

        Thanks for the link to the NASA site, Magnus.

        While there, I thought I would search for the word “Scotland” and I think eveybody should read this entry published in 2014:
        https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/07/british-government-vision-uk-spaceport/

        One would hope that the broad vision of 4 years ago is no longer current and that your reassurances on size and impact are correct, but one can see how Lockheed would really be interested in its eventual potential from the 2014 vision.

        I still have suspicions of a “thin end of the wedge” strategy here.

    2. Magnus Davidson says:

      Hi Denis,

      A quick update. I’ve had a quick look at whoownsscotland and the part of the Moine that Melness Crofters Estate own is indeed the north east side, rather than Povlsen who owns the western side.

      Your assumption that “it seems likely it would be inland from the east side of the Moine” looks to be correct which I hope is good news for you.

      Cheers,

      Magnus

Keep our Journalism Independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address to subscribe for free here and receive Bella direct to your inbox.

 
Bella Caledonia