Orbex Launch Site Development Faces Backlash

Posted by Ellie on December 17th, 2020

Orbex Launch Site Development Faces Backlash

Space company Orbex’s plans for construction of a spaceport in northern Scotland continue to court further controversy from locals. The projected number of jobs the project was going to bring to the area has tumbled, from 400 in the original 2018 planning submission to less than 200 today. Residents feel betrayed, and that the costs of the new development to the local area now far outweigh the positives. The spaceport is to be built in the Mhoine peninsula, an area of outstanding natural beauty that’s home to a wide variety of rare and endangered wildlife. Annual launch activity is projected to scatter several tonnes of reinforced plastics, carbon fibre and metal alloy into the waters off Scotland’s northern coast, which campaigners say will negatively impact the local ecosystem.

Orbex to Lose Development Partner

It’s not only local residents who are withdrawing their support from the project. American aerospace firm Lockheed Martin originally intended to partner with Orbex on the site to help launch their own satellite rockets. However, provisos to the planning permission granted by Highland Council led the company to announce in October 2020 that they would be stepping down from the project. Originally two launchpads were planned for the site. One would launch Orbex’s own proprietary rockets, while another would provide multipurpose launches for other operators. However, Highland Council granted permission for only one launchpad. In light of this, Lockheed Martin announced that they would be launching their future satellites from the Shetland Space Centre in future.

Planning Body Caps Launch Capacity

A further clause in the permission means that Orbex will only be able to launch a maximum of 12 rockets per year if and when the new spaceport becomes operational. This represents a threat to the venture’s profitability, as the relatively small launch capacity may provide a poor return on investors for the billions needed to get the site up and running. The rival Shetland Space Centre, located in the northernmost island of Unst, faces no such restriction. It comes as no surprise that a giant multinational like Lockheed Martin settled on the latter as a safer option for fulfilling their rocket launch strategy.

Local Billionaire Joins Opposition

Anders Polvsen is one of the many residents to demand a tougher line be taken by the local council with Orbex’s plans. He described the development as “deeply damaging”, and publicly demanded that an inquiry be brought about to establish how permission for the site was granted without central government oversight. He has also promised to fight the development in court with his not inconsiderable resources, adding another name to the list of enemies Orbex is acquiring in pursuit of its new spaceport.

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