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Boss of rocket company Orbex says he probably wouldn't want spaceport close to his home


By Mike Merritt

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A spokesman for Orbex said its CEO Chris Larmour – seen here during the unveiling of the company's launch rocket – was 'empathising' with local residents. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
A spokesman for Orbex said its CEO Chris Larmour – seen here during the unveiling of the company's launch rocket – was 'empathising' with local residents. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

The head of a company building rockets for a controversial spaceport in Sutherland has admitted he probably would not want it close to his home.

Chris Larmour of Moray-based aerospace engineering firm Orbex has outraged opponents of Britain's first vertical launch spaceport on the A’Mhoine Peninsula near Melness with his comments.

But his spokesman said he was "empathising" with those affected.

Mr Larmour was taking part in a recent panel-based space industry event when he said to the viewing audience: "It's in the backyard of some people and some people don't like that – and fair enough, you know, I wouldn't probably either."

He added that there are not many places in Europe to build such a facility and finding the right balance involved various factors including taking into account the people who lived there and "acceptability to the local population is quite a tricky thing".

"You can't launch a rocket from a Tesco's car park. When you are doing a new one (building a spaceport) you tend to meet some resistance," said Mr Larmour.

"I mean, literally, the spaceport at Sutherland, it's in the backyard of some people and some people don't like that – and fair enough, you know, I wouldn't probably either.

"But you have to look at the bigger picture. If you are building an airport, somebody is going to be upset because that airport is beside their house. But that airport serves a much bigger region and a much bigger population than just those five or six people.

"And that is the case we have been making to the broader population around that area and in Scotland and in the UK frankly. That facility enables a lot of economic benefit, flexibility, freedom to operate, sovereign launch without people looking over your shoulder and kind of completes the end to end value chain in the UK to bring satellites that the UK is very good at building and take them into orbit directly on that island."

John Williams, chairman of Protect the Mhoine which is campaigning against Spaceport Sutherland, said: "Mr Larmour's comments will upset a lot of people, but at least they are honest and recognise what we are going to have to put up with.

"We have been constantly making the case of the damage this spaceport will do to the area."

A spokesman for Orbex said: "It is clear that Chris Larmour was empathising with the objections from a minority of residents in Melness, while painting the bigger picture for the whole community.

"Orbex has always listened to objections of local residents and authorities, and been sensitive to the location. By listening to that feedback and working closely with numerous bodies, Orbex has helped design the world's first carbon neutral spaceport, which is an example for the rest of the world. Orbex looks forward to it becoming operational shortly."

Since 2015, Orbex says it has raised over £38 million in public and private funding and work with the support of several EU governments and key partners to ensure the best launch vehicle and launch site options.

The Sutherland Space Hub was granted planning permission last year but that decision will be challenged in the courts.
The Sutherland Space Hub was granted planning permission last year but that decision will be challenged in the courts.

Last year it secured investment of up to £1.5 million from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The funding will support the further design and development of Orbex Prime, an innovative new space launch vehicle that will transport small satellites into space.

The Orbex Prime is expected to be the first vehicle to launch from the £17.3 million Space Hub Sutherland on the A’Mhoine peninsula, which was granted planning permission by Highland Council last year.

The scheme attracted hundreds of objections, including from the Scottish RSPB.

A judicial review of the planning approval for the spaceport has since been granted permission after nearby landowner Anders Holch Povlsen's company Wildland Ltd challenged the council's decision.

Orbex intends to establish a permanent workforce at Space Hub Sutherland where rockets manufactured in Forres and customer payloads will be prepared for launch.

HIE has worked closely with Orbex since the agency’s board decided to support the development of Space Hub Sutherland. The satellite launch facility has been designed to meet the needs of the Orbex Prime and similar small, environmentally sustainable launch vehicles.

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