Scotland has taken another step towards commercial vertical launch capability with the dismissal of objections instigated by Danish billionaire Anders Povlsen.
The petition had been made by Wildland Limited, responsible for managing the enormous tracts of land owned by Povlsen. At issue was planning permission submitted by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and granted by The Highland Council for a vertical space port, replete with the necessary ancillaries, at a site to be called Space Hub Sutherland.
Povlsen is a major shareholder in the fashion retail giant ASOS and last year made a substantial investment in plans for a space port in Shetland, on the isle of Unst, where the RAF Saxa Vord radar station is based, over 400km and four ferries away.
Lawyers representing Wildland argued that the planning application for Space Port Sutherland did not consider all the risks posed to the environment nor the impact of rocket fanciers turning up to watch launches.
The Judge, Lord Doherty, was having none of it [PDF]. Regarding worries about visitor management, the response was: "I am not satisfied that this ground of challenge is well founded."
Upset to birds? "I am not persuaded that the petitioner's contention is well founded."
And so it went on.
Tim Kirkwood, chief executive of Wildland Limited, said: "We are surprised and disappointed by the Court's judgement.
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"Our view and that of many people remains that the proposed space port will be completely inappropriate for such an environmentally vulnerable area and the protected habitats it sustains."
While Kirkwood acknowledged that "some members of the community take a different view," he worried that "working against nature in such an area will, we believe, prove to be damaging to its long-term economy as well as the environment."
As one might expect, not everyone agrees. Chris Larmour, CEO of Scot rocketeers Orbex, was cock-a-hoop: "This is extremely positive news for a wide variety of communities and businesses," he said, "and paves the way for the Pathfinder launch of small satellites from Sutherland Spaceport in Scotland.
"We're especially pleased for the crofters of the Melness Crofters Estate, who will be able to protect and develop their community with modern jobs. Sutherland is still the only UK spaceport with planning permission and now, with this ruling, the countdown to space launch from the UK can begin."
The story, however, may not be over yet. As well as noting the impending COP26 conference, which will inevitably turn the world's gaze onto Scotland's environmental protection efforts, Kirkwood said: "At this stage we will take time to consider the ruling carefully and decide whether further steps are appropriate to provide the protection so urgently needed."
The Register contacted HIE to find out when ground would finally be broken for the long-awaited UK spaceport, but has yet to receive a response. ®