Sutherland Spaceport Facts

Get the facts about Sutherland Spaceport

Space Hub Sutherland will be the UK’s first vertical launch spaceport. The project has received backing from the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the UK Space Agency, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, the TUC, the majority of Scots as well as landowners, the Melness Crofters Estate.

However, since the project was announced in July 2018, there have been a number of questionable claims made, combined with a lack of fact-checking in some media articles.

Check the information below to get verified, evidenced facts.


Claim

Fact

Evidence

The Ministry of Defence will use Space Hub Sutherland as “a missile site – capable of firing ballistic missiles.”

Claimant: John Williams

Source: Mike Merritt, The Northern Times

The UK does not own any land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).

The United Kingdom does not possess ICBMs.”
Source: Arms Control Association


Claim

Fact

Evidence

Building a spaceport on the proposed moor would be “desecrating a pristine habitat”

Claimant: Alistair Gow, Protect the Mhoine facebook group

The moorland is currently used extensively for peat cutting and extraction, leaving lengthy scars on the landscape as well as plastic and rusty metal debris.

62.5 hectares of these scars will be repaired by the project.

Source: Photographs taken at A’Mhoine peninsula, 7th August 2019 (see below)

Peat cutting scars and plastic debris at A’Mhoine on the proposed site of the spaceport
Peat cutting scars and debris at A’Mhoine on the proposed site of the spaceport
The site being proposed is not “pristine” but is surrounded by extensive peat cuttings which will be repaired by the project.
Spaceport building positioned to maximize use of ground damaged by peat cutting scars.

Claim

Fact

Evidence

Rockets would “drop 7.5 tonnes of scrap, metals mainly, into the sea with each launch”

Claimant: John Williams

Source: Email to journalist Mike Merritt

The rockets prposed are made of carbon fibre and designed to be recoverable and reusable.

They weigh only 1.5 tonnes when empty.

The key to the rocket’s efficiency and environmental friendliness is the use of lightweight carbon fibre structures
Source: Royal Aeronautical Society

Orbex Reusable Green Launcher Planned To Fly In 2021
Source: Aviation Week


Claim

Fact

Evidence

Plans for the spaceport could be “grounded by the humble bumblebee” species, the Great Yellow bumblebee.

Claimant: John Williams

Source: Mike Merritt, The Scottish Mail on Sunday

The National Biodiversity Atlas shows no presence of these insects in the A’Mhoine peninsula.

Some areas of the A’Mhoine peninsula are Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the Great Yellow bumblebee is not listed within these designations.

A’Mhoine is not one of the areas that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has designated as worth searching for Great Yellow bumblebees.

Bumblebees are not listed as species in any local SSSI designations. Source: SSSI Citation

Species data from National Bioviersity Atlas for Bombus distinguendus [great yellow bumblebee]. Source: NBNAtlas.org

Source: Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Map from the National Biodiversity Atlas showing no presence of Great Yellow Bumblebee on A’Mhoine peninsula

Claim

Fact

Evidence

“…independent researcher Janette Wyper, question[s] the number – and quality – of jobs which will be created locally”

Claimant: Janette Wyper

Source: Mike Merritt,
The Northern Times, based on report “Satellites to Sutherland-not quite coals to Newcastle!”

Janette Wyper has spoken out against the spaceport development and is the wife of George Wyper, an advisor to the Protect the Mhoine protest group, calling into question her “independent” status.

Her relationship to the Protect the Mhoine protest group was not disclosed in the report she co-authored called “Satellites to Sutherland-not quite coals to Newcastle!”.

Janette Wyper, wife of George [Wyper]

Janette Wyper: “We really need a lot of things and I don’t think rockets were particularly high up on that list.”

Source: The Press & Journal, 3 months before publication of the report co-authored by Janette Wyper


Claim

Fact

Evidence

The site will industrialize the entire region and will be the size of Cape Canaveral.

Claimant: John Williams

The site being proposed is similar in scale to the local Achuvoldrach recycling centre on the Mhoine and equivalent to a similar launch site at Mahia in New Zealand.

It is analogous in size to a smallholding farm.

Jacob Geer [UK Space Agency] stresses what a small surface area the spaceport will cover. “It’s certainly not Cape Canaveral,” he says. “I think you’d be surprised how small and lean a site like that can be.” 
Source: National Geographic

Visualization showing the visual impact of the launch site as seen from Ben Tongue summit looking due West.

Claim

Fact

Evidence

Forty “high-quality jobs” are unlikely to be created as “the jobs which will be available to local people have been stated as housekeeping and security”.

Claimants: Mike Danson, Geoff Whittam and Janette Wyper

Source: “Satellites to Sutherland-not quite coals to Newcastle!” report

Independent economic impact assessments show 44 jobs being created locally.

The authors of the study did not contact employers about their hiring plans.

Managing a spaceport requires staff to handle administration, finance, management, logistics, licencing & insurance, maintenance, fuelling, electrics, security, communications, housekeeping, community relations and tourism on a consistent basis.

Source: Economic Impact Assessment, Frontline February 2020.

…they didn’t contact [Orbex] to ask what jobs we were proposing to put onto that site.  And if they had, we would have told them we are looking at jobs that include finance, administration, maintenance, electronics, electrics, mechanical systems, fueling systems, security, logistics, a whole range of jobs that would be very welcome in that region.
Source: The Press & Journal


Claim

Fact

Evidence

Companies associated with Space Hub Sutherland are not “going to offer employment to local Highlanders” and that “any jobs that are going to be produced will be highly specialised ones”.

Claimant: Alastair Gow

Source: Dominic Bliss, National Geographic

Orbex alone expects to hire around 150 staff in the Highlands region, including around 20 staff at the spaceport site, covering technical and non-technical roles.

…we are looking at jobs that include finance, administration, maintenance, electronics, electrics, mechanical systems, fueling systems, security, logistics, a whole range of jobs that would be very welcome in that region.
Source: The Press & Journal

UK-based spaceflight firm Orbex said more than 130 new jobs could result from the decision to site the base in Forres.
Source: BBC


Claim

Fact

Evidence

Tempers “boiled over” at a local meeting about the spaceport with “a complaint […] made to the police” 

Claimant: Unnamed sources

Source: Calum Ross, The Press & Journal

The police have no record of this incident.

Source: Letter from the police presented to and held by the Tongue Community Council


Claim

Fact

Evidence

“The blanket bog […] is a positive player in the essential business of carbon capture.”

Claimant: John Williams

Source: Email to journalist Mike Merritt

Wetlands are a major source of climate concern, because they add methane into the atmosphere, which is said to be 84 times more damaging than carbon dioxide by environmental groups.

Wetlands are the largest natural source of atmospheric methane in the world, and therefore remain a major area of concern with respect to climate change.” Source: Wikipedia

In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Methane emissions are rising globally because wetlands – especially in northern latitudes – are releasing more than anyone had realised
Source: Climate News Network

Graphic from Global Carbon Project showing significantly negative effect of wetlands on global methane emissions

Claim

Fact

Evidence

The spaceport is not supported by the local population.

Claimant: John Williams

A democratic vote of local crofters was in favour of the launch site by a clear majority.

A Scotland-wide poll by YouGov showed 70% of people were in favour of the spaceport project.

In a ballot of crofters held by MCE [Melness Crofters Estate] this week, 59% of votes cast were in favour (27 votes), and 39% were against (18 votes). There was one spoiled ballot paper.
Source: The Press & Journal

Linda Munro, the local councillor, said: “…There are far more people pro the spaceport than there are against it”
Source: The Times

“If you look at PTM [Protect The Mhoine] and the members, they are 99% retired. To be honest, the locals here are absolutely fed up with them.” Source: Mr Coghill from Space Port United Residents in The Press & Journal


Claim

Fact

Evidence

The site being proposed is within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Claimant: John Williams

The site being proposed is not within any SSSI, nor on the protected blanket peat bog.

He [Alistair Gow, Protect the Mhoine] admits the proposed site of the launchpad is not actually on the peat bog itself, but it is very close to it; and to a site of special scientific interest
Source: National Geographic

Rusty equipment and peat cutting scars directly on the site of the proposed spaceport.

Claim

The construction site is 800 acres [323 hectares] in size.

Claimant: Extinction Rebellion, 16.2.2020

Fact

The total construction site is just 4.8 hectares in size.

Evidence

Source: Environmental Impact Statement, HIE (see table below)

Summary table showing the total area affected by construction is 4.8 hectares. An average smallholding farm is around 20 hectares in size.

Claim

The site will have a negative impact on carbon capture and climate change.

Claimant: Extinction Rebellion, 16.2.2020

Fact

The work will restore 62.5 hectares of legacy peat cuttings on the same site and be overall positive for the climate change.

Evidence

“As the combined area of peatland within the site proposed for restoration … is 62.50ha, it is considered that there would be no significant effect of the permanent loss of 4.20 ha of blanket bog and 0.36 ha of acidic flush as a result of construction.”

Source: Environmental Impact Statement, HIE

Peat excavation and restoration summary, showing a net 615 tonne overall positive impact on peatlands.

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