SETTING up the UK’s first spaceport in Scotland could help the country’s satellite firms achieve stellar success, it is claimed.

Andrew Paliwoda of Glasgow pioneers Alba Orbital says news that Sutherland has been chosen for the establishment of the UK’s first spaceport could open up new horizons for homegrown firms specialising in cutting-edge tech.

Scotland already accounts for 18% of the UK’s space industry jobs, with more satellites built in Glasgow in the past two years than in any other European city, and the space sector is currently worth more than £130 million to the Scottish economy.

However, that is expected to increase after the Westminster Government confirmed the A’Mhoine peninsula has been selected as the location for Britain’s first spaceport.

It is hoped the first vertical rocket and satellite launches could take place by the early 2020s and the UK Space Agency says space flights may eventually follow. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) will be given £2.5m to develop the project, with US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin amongst partners in a consortium which lodged a proposal last summer.

HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright said: “The decision to support the UK’s first spaceport in Sutherland is tremendous news for our region and for Scotland as a whole. The international space sector is growing and we want to ensure the region is ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated from this fantastic opportunity.”

And UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “We want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites.

“The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites.”

Alba Orbital, which specialises in small-scale devices, is preparing for the launch of its Unicorn 2A satellite from Alaska later this year. Paliwoda said: “At the moment we have got a supply chain which requires us to fly around the world. If there’s a launch capacity in Scotland, we can jump on a train and stick a satellite on a rocket. That’s a lot simpler.

“Everything could happen in Scotland.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Kirsteen Currie says the scheme could bring major improvements to the area she represents. Cautioning that it will be “very different from Cape Canaveral” in the US. She said: “The challenge is now to make sure we balance our environmental concerns with the socio-economic needs of the community.

“This could be a golden opportunity. My hope is that there are going to be some real STEM jobs, because in Sutherland it’s hard to come by a job that could lead to a career. But we also need infrastructure. There is already a shortage of housing and we need to improve the road network.”

Sutherland is the first vertical launch site to be awarded grant money, ahead of others at Unst, Shetland, and North Uist in the Western Isles. A £2m development fund has also been launched for horizontal launch facilities at sites like Prestwick, Cornwall’s Newquay, Campbeltown in Argyll and Bute and Llanbedr, Wales, subject to a successful business case.

The space agency said the spaceflight market is potentially worth £3.8 billion to the UK over the next decade. Agency chief executive Graham Turnock said the spaceport grant would “help kick-start an exciting new era” for the sector.