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Orbex underscores its commitment to Space Hub Sutherland following Lockheed Martin withdrawal

By Caroline McMorran

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Orbex has stressed its commitment to Space Hub Sutherland following the withdrawal of fellow aerospace company Lockheed Martin from the site.

US-based Lockheed Martin is switching its allegiance from the Sutherland space port to the planned Shetland Space Centre at Saxa Vord on the island of Unst, it emerged yesterday.

Orbex had underlined its commitment to the Space Hub Sutherland.
Orbex had underlined its commitment to the Space Hub Sutherland.

Along with Orbex, the firm had been earmarked to launch satellites vertically into orbit from the £17.3 million Space Hub Sutherland site on Melness Crofting Estate, near Tongue. The development has planning consent but construction work is yet to start.

Liz Crawshaw, a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin’s UK operations, is reported to have said that ‘conflicting requirements’ between Lockheed Martin and Orbex led to the decision and that separate launch sites offered a more attractive solution.

UK Space Agency has backed Lockheed Martin’s move, saying that it would continue to deliver long-term value and help establish a sustainable, commercial launch market as part of the UK’s space flight programme.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which is leading the Space Hub Sutherland scheme, said it demonstrates the scale of the opportunity presented by the growth of the UK space sector.

In a statement issued today Orbex said that Space Hub Sutherland remained its preferred site and was perfectly suited to the needs of its Prime launch vehicle.

The statement read: “Having contributed in detail to the plans that have already been approved, we know that Sutherland is perfectly suited to the needs of the Orbex Prime launch vehicle.

“Subject to receiving the final consent from the Scottish Land Court, we expect construction will be able to start in early 2021 and we look forward to the first orbital launch taking place from Sutherland during 2022.”

Orbex, which has its headquarters and production facility in Forres, said it was focussing on a small, reusable, 100 percent European launch system that cuts launch Co2 footprint by 90 per cent.

“We’re already creating dozens of new high tech jobs at our factor and test sites to support that goal and deliver launch services to contracted small satellite customers,” the company said.

“After numerous discussions behind-the-scenes over the past 18 months we are pleased to see our colleagues in the LaunchUK grant programme (the UK Government's space flight programme) have found an alternate site for their American-built rockets.

The relocation of that larger project significantly simplifies the operations of Space Hub Sutherland, allowing us to focus on UK-led operations and regulations.”

HIE deputy chief executive Carroll Buxton said: “Yesterday’s announcement is great news for Shetland. It demonstrates the scale of the opportunity presented by the growth of the UK space sector, and the Highlands and Islands has significant natural advantages to support commercial launch activity.

“Our region is already establishing a strong foothold in the sector – Orbex set up a design and manufacturing facility for their launch vehicle in Forres last year, which demonstrates the potential for this new industry to create jobs, and Space Hub Sutherland achieved planning permission in August 2020. In addition, there are plans for both the Western Isles and the Kintyre peninsula to pursue specific launch-related opportunities.

“The UK Space Agency’s decision is a vote of confidence in Shetland and in the potential of our region to help build a diverse and innovative space sector that has tremendous potential to generate high quality jobs and training opportunities, particularly in remote and rural areas.”

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