CAPTAIN Kirk anticipates space tourists taking off from Scotland in our lifetime.

No, not on the next Star Trek film but from a destination from which we usually travel to the continent.

Captain Roy Kirk has just as much passion for space as the better-known Captain James Tiberius Kirk and is at the heart of Scotland’s emergence as a global leader in space technology.

The project director from Space Hub Sutherland who delights in being called Captain Kirk, on account of a Territorial Army background, is excited at how fast the sector is growing in Sutherland and across Scotland.

He said: “Science fiction is becoming science fact. We saw just a few days ago that the Virgin facility to take people to space is developing..

“We’re very proud and supportive in the space sector here of Prestwick. It’s a great facility and they are moving forward, these things take time and could be the first place in the UK to put space tourists into space.

“It might take several years but that’s a real possibility.”

And what of Elon Musk’s contention that the human species may yet colonise space?

Captain Kirk added: “There are a number of countries looking to put facilities on the moon. They call it the lunarsphere.

“About 100 years ago we had Man’s first powered flight on Earth and here we are 100 years later having Man’s first powered flight with a helicopter on Mars. It’s extraordinary.

“I don’t believe I will ever go into space but I do believe that I will help satellites go into space from Scotland.”

For that to happen environmental objections to the Sutherland project on the Moine Peninsula near Tongue by billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen who own land near the proposed facility must be addressed.

Captain Kirk added: “We definitely anticipate meeting our targets. We are just finishing an application this week to the Scottish Land Court.

“We still have a petition for a judicial review from Mr Anders Povlsen at Wildland Ltd, he’s objecting to the planning decision that was determined in August last year.

“And that’s going to be heard in the Court of Session on June 8-10.”

Wildland Ltd had said that after a “period of review and reflection” that they still had concerns about the proposed space port.

They said that it was “absolutely vital that planning applications of such scale and significance for environmentally vulnerable protected areas” were subject to “rigorous scrutiny”.

Captain Kirk is hopeful that an agreement can be found..

He added: “There have been a few challenges but we are still the only space port that has got planning consent and we’re delighted to be leading Scotland in that and we are still on schedule for bringing orbital space launch to Scotland.

“We would certainly expect that we would be having an orbital sub-launch in 2022 or 2023.”

Captain Kirk stresses that Sutherland is taking its environmental responsibilities very seriously.

He said: “The technology now being used to put satellites up into lower Earth orbit about 500kms is actually very advanced. The launch vehicle is about 17m tall and 1.3m wide. The infrastructure we will be doing on the ground is very modest and done so in purpose.

“We’re looking to do something which is very green. We acknowledge that launching satellites into space will create carbon we accept that.

“But we are trying to minimise the amount of carbon.

“And we’re also doing some work on this site in restoring peat bogs, about 76 hectares to be restored, and the effect of that is that for the life of the project the project could be ­carbon neutral.

“That is probably over a 20-year ­period but we do believe that the ­project will develop and for Scotland be a tremendous asset over many years beyond that.”

Captain Kirk believes that this will allow Sutherland to build on what is going on in the space technology ­sector elsewhere in the country.

HE said: “In Glasgow you’ve got some fabulous manufacturers of small satellites that really is world-leading. Clyde Space, now AAC Clyde Space, you’ve got Spire, you’ve got Alba Orbital.

“And in Edinburgh, mainly through Edinburgh University, you’ve got some very exciting things happening about how you interpret the data you get from space.

“And In Dundee there are some excellent things happening in how you download the signals from space.

“So there really is a raft of facilities available and what we see is that the operation of the space hub will close the circle and we will have a one-stop shop in Scotland where we can not only make your satellite, we can launch and we can interpret the data you get from space, all in Scotland.

“So the future of the sector with launch happening for the first time in the UK, in Scotland is really tremendous.”

Captain Kirk can see too that space technology can follow a similar path to oil in growing our economy.

He said: “It may be a different scale but there are actually a lot of good similarities.

“One of the things that really drives us is that we have up in the North Highlands a really brilliant facility, Dounreay, And they have about a thousand engineers up there who are working away doing some clever, clever things and now Dounreay is closing.

“So over the next decade there will be a bunch of people there, and elsewhere in Scotland, who are looking for well-paid jobs. and I do think the space sector can play its part. I’m not saying it will take everybody on, but I think it can play its part.

“And as well as growing some of those existing businesses in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, actually bringing this new launch segment it will benefit the Highlands and Islands but not just then, it will benefit Scotland.

“We’ve done a number of economic impact assessments and those numbers range between 200 and 400 jobs within five years of operation.

“And I don’t think that’s the final tally.”

Scotland’s Captain Kirk believes that the launch will be an event in ­itself.

He added: “This is not Cape ­Canaveral but when we do launch, hopefully in late 2022, this will be a historic moment.

“I do believe that people will be ­interested to come and see satellites being put into orbit.”