Consultation Responses

Collated Q&As from Online Consultation Event

12th to 14th May 2020 inclusive

SH – Scott Hammond, Shetland Space Centre

ARF – Alan Farningham, Farningham Planning Ltd

What is the function of the spaceport?

To launch small rockets carrying small satellites into lower earth orbit – these orbits will be polar i.e. the rockets will launch in a northwards direction. We (Shetland Space Centre) will also look at launching smaller rockets, called “sounding rockets” which achieve space but do not enter orbit. These sounding rockets are used for in space testing of equipment and also micro gravity research.

The rockets will be between 14-30m in height for the orbital launches, the sounding rockets will be smaller.

Unst is the best location due to its high latitude and rockets can launch directly north over the sea.

Will it operate on a commercial basis and who are the clients?

Yes, it is commercial.

Our clients will be commercial rocket companies and their clients will be satellite companies.

What are the payloads?

They are small satellites which will be used for general communications, such as bringing internet to remote areas that do not currently have it, or earth observation for various purposes such as illegal logging or tracking gases.

The satellites are also used to assist shipping and aircraft in various ways, including showing the best route to take to reduce fuel costs and produce less CO2.

What will the exclusion zone be and will Skaw and Hermaness be included in it?

The secondary regulations are currently being prepared by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and were due for publication in draft form in April 2020. Due to Covid-19, this work has been delayed.

When available, they will dictate the extent of exclusion zone we will be required to impose. In the interim period, we are using existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations for the US space industry as a template.

The FAA regulations cover rockets that are much larger than we intend to launch, therefore we expect any exclusion zone in Unst to be much smaller.

Hermaness will definitely not be within the exclusion zone. The house at Skaw may be in the exclusion zone but is unoccupied.


There is concern among inshore and offshore fishermen that their grounds will be restricted – will there be closed areas during launch or recovery and how do you intend to handle this?

There will be an exclusion zone in place on land and sea. The actual size of this is still to be confirmed but, 2km would be an absolute maximum.

We would expect the zone to be closed approximately 3-4 hours ahead of launch operations and during the actual launch but, it would be reopened as soon as possible thereafter.

We may employ local fishermen to act as guard boats to monitor the zone and ensure it remains clear.

The rocket stages (parts) will come down far to the north, about 500km-11,00km north of Unst, so inshore fishery would not be affected.

Balloons are different, they come down slowly on a parachute and we will have our own boat positioned to retrieve them.

NOMAR and Securité notices will be issued ahead of launch operations.

Will there be any debris on the seabed?

Any debris will be far to the north, about 500km-1,100km north of Unst, and will be subject to a Marine Scotland Licence.

Some rocket manufacturers are looking at recovery for the future, but initially, most stages (parts) will sink to the seabed and there will be nothing in the local area.

Will there be any concerns about creels being in place in the exclusion zone?

None at all, the creels will be able to stay there as long as the fishermen themselves clear the zone.

Will the launch trajectory take the rockets over Hermaness?

No, rockets will be launched to the north.

Depending on the orbit they are heading to, they will launch almost due north or about 10° west of north but will not be over Hermaness.

What will be the frequency of launches?

Up to a maximum of 30 launches per year ultimately – but we will need to build up to this.  It is anticipated that in the initial years of the spaceport, there will be up to 10 launches per year.

Why will there be 3 launch pads on the site?

Each rocket manufacturer wants their own pad which is bespoke to their individual needs.

Some launch pads use flame trenches and some use stools, depending on the rocket type.

We’ll have a variety of payload capacities for rockets ranging from 14m-30m maximum. However, we don’t know what size will be the most successful in the market – a big rocket may have a 400kg payload and have to find customers to fill the other 200kg, known as ride share, so won’t launch so often, whereas a smaller rocket will put up one smaller satellite so will be able to launch more often.

We want to create a sustainable business for long term jobs – we can de-risk this by having different sizes of rockets being launched.

How deep will the launch pad foundations go?

We can’t give an exact figure at this time as it will depend on the design and it could be either a flame trench or a stool.

We would expect to build up the foundation rather than dig down, but this is still to be determined.

Is there an expectation to increase the size of the rockets over time?

No.  The planning application will be for rockets up to a maximum of 30m. We would expect any future planning permission to be conditioned accordingly.

Satellites are getting smaller, so people are looking for smaller rockets to be more cost effective.

The breadth of rocket capacity de-risks the project and guarantees jobs.

As an analogy – Heathrow Airport has a whole range of aircraft with different capabilities catering for different requirements.

Will all launches be ground based or will there be further balloon launches?

The planning application will be for ground launches.

We are still working with B2Space on its balloon launches. They will continue to test launch their balloons but, the first orbital launch will be done from a barge towed behind a ship into our airspace.

Will the rockets launch all year round or will it be seasonal?

The planning application will be for all year round launches.

We have weather data for 15 years which shows launches are possible all year round but, reduced in winter.

The issue in Shetland is wind – not so much the surface wind, more so the upper level wind where the jet stream is.

Will there be any night launches?

Some launches could be at night to avoid existing orbiting satellites etc. We cannot give a definitive number of night launches at this time.

What impact will noise and vibration have on sea and bird life?

The EIA will assess potential impacts on sea life and birds – 2 years’ worth of bird surveys have already been undertaken.

The EIA will present noise mitigation methods such as a water deluge system which is used at other spaceports around the world as a means of supressing noise during launch.

The rockets we are planning to launch have a significant thrust to weight ratio. This means they will accelerate very quickly and be above 60,000ft in a matter of seconds therefore, any noise from launches will be extremely short lived.

USA studies on the impacts of launches on birds find that birds take flight, fly away and then return to the site.

The project ecologist is currently assessing how different bird species react to noise. He is also reviewing studies undertaken in a variety of geographical locations on this matter.

Outside of launch, this is a very quiet industry. We expect the rockets and satellites to arrive in standard 40ft containers about 3 to 4 weeks prior to launch. They will enter the integration hangar(s) where they will be prepared for launch. During this time, it will look as if nothing is happening on the site.

Many cliff nesting birds react to noise and fly off, which could knock eggs or chicks off the cliff ledge.  There are restrictions at Sumburgh Head about the use of the foghorn to avoid this, which could be a useful comparison

The project ecologist is currently looking at such aspects to identify best practice and how best to implement it.

One report has stated that a warning bell was sounded before launch and that the wildlife in the area became accustomed to the sound and knew to expect a louder noise thereafter.

We would look to engage with Shetland Bird Club and RSPB on ornithological matters given their collective experience and knowledge of local bird life.

The noise and vibration assessment and bird studies, including breeding seasons, will form an integral and inter-related part of the EIA.

On a calm day, how far from the launch pad will the smoke go?  Will it reach the cliffs?

The smoke you see during a launch is actually water vapour from the water deluge system. Once above the effect of the water deluge system, we would not expect to see any smoke.

As with any combustion process, there will be gases produced. These are also being assessed as part of the air quality chapter of the EIA.

Who will be carrying out the various studies?

The various studies which form part of the EIA process are being carried out by an expert team of consultants covering inter alia landscape and visual; socio-economics; ecology and ornithology; noise and vibration; air quality; hydrology and geology; cultural heritage and archaeology; transport and access; and, aviation and telecoms.

Is there any further information on Lockheed Martin’s involvement? 

There are some announcements which will be made in due course but, for commercial confidentiality reasons, we can’t comment any further at this time.

Is this a military launch site?

There will be no missiles from the site. It is a commercial development – payloads would be either commercial or governmental.

Do rockets fall into the sea?

Rockets come in 2 or 3 ‘stages’ (parts). ‘Stages’ do fall back down to earth. For example, the nose cone is only useful in the lower atmosphere and is jettisoned during the launch trajectory phase and will fall back to earth.

Depending upon the height that a stage or nose cone is jettisoned, it may burn up on re-entering the atmosphere before landing in the sea.

The “drop zones” will be well to the north of Unst, ranging from 500 to 1,100km north. Prior notification will be given to air and sea users of where and when ‘stages’ will fall back to earth. 

How safe are rockets and what failures are there?

As with any industry, accidents do happen so safety procedures are put in place. These safety procedures are monitored by regulatory authorities, in our case the UKSA.

Once the secondary regulations are published by the UKSA, we will begin the process of creating a “safety case”. This details what we are doing and what procedures and equipment we have put in place to ensure that our operations are safe.

The UKSA is the safety regulator and it will only issue a licence to operate if it believes that our operations are safe. We expect to be the subject of regular monitoring from the UKSA during the life of the spaceport.

Will residents have to be evacuated from their properties or could their properties be subject to compulsory purchase?

There will be no evacuation of properties during launch and no compulsory purchase of properties.

There will be no people within the exclusion zone as it will be cleared before launch. Given the topography of Lamba Ness, it will be easy to monitor this.

The exclusion zone will not extend to the occupied houses at Norwick, so there will be no reason for people to leave during a launch.

We expect Norwick Beach to be a popular place to watch a launch from.

What are the timescales for the submission of the planning application and what will it contain?

Covid-19 restrictions are currently impacting on on-site survey work but, the aim is to formally submit the planning application(s) to The Shetland Islands Council in September 2020.

The planning applications will be supported by a series of detailed design drawings and an Environmental Impact Assessment Report, including various mitigation strategy documents. There will also be a Design & Access Statement and a Pre-Application Public Consultation Report.

The Scottish Government aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. Will the site be high carbon producing and what measures will be in place to offset this?

This is an integral part of the EIA. It is now standard practice to offset carbon.

The UN set 18 carbon goals and satellites contribute directly to 14 of these and to part of the other 4. We will therefore be contributing to the whole climate change effort.

How can we guarantee that rocket launches won’t impact on the environment and destroy the things that make Unst so special?

As part of the EIA process, the project team will be identifying and assessing areas that could potentially be impacted upon by launch activities. These impacts will be quantified and, where necessary, appropriate mitigation measures will be put in place.

It is anticipated that as part of any future planning permission, there will be ongoing monitoring of site operations. SOTEAG currently do this for Sullom Voe Terminal as an independent group made up of local people and ecologists and we would be looking to implement a similar approach.


What work has been done so far on economic benefits?

The EIA will include a chapter that will specifically assess and quantify the social and economic benefits associated with the project, including jobs during construction, primary jobs on site, secondary jobs elsewhere on Shetland, full-time and part-time roles etc.

Will there be noxious waste materials produced and how will these be disposed of?

We will be designing the site and the launch pads to ensure that any waste materials will not damage the environment.

A Waste Management Strategy including appropriate mitigation will form part of the EIA.

Contracts and use of land – is this by purchase or lease, and if leased, how long for?

We own the Saxa Vord site which will accommodate the launch and range control building.

We have a 30-year lease with the landowners for the launch site.

We have a lease in place with Shetland Islands Council for the use of the fuel storage areas at Baltasound Airfield.

Will Covid-19 interrupt the work schedule and what is the outlook for Q4 2020/Q1 2021?

The current Covid-19 restrictions are the primary reason why the public consultation is online.

Site survey work has been delayed but we expect to get this underway as soon as restrictions are relaxed.

We are aiming to submit the planning applications to SIC in September 2020 but this is dependent on whether the survey work has been completed.

We intend to undertake further public consultation in early September, once the EIA process has been completed. Any delay in the EIA process and associated site survey work will push this date further back in the year.

It is anticipated that the Council will determine the proposals within 9 months. However, we need all other relevant permissions and consents to be in place before work can commence on site.

The Lamba Ness launch site will be built in phases with a hangar and 2 launch pads making up the first phase. As the number of launches increase, we will construct the 3rd pad and hangars.

How might delay cause harm to the project?

Delay could allow our international competitors – Norway, Sweden and the Azores – to get ahead of us.

We are currently ahead and have customers aligned to us. However, any significant delay could cause them to go elsewhere.

It is important for us to be first to market.

The UK and Scotland (in particular) are very good at building satellites and processing data from them. If we can launch them, we will have the whole value chain in place here in Scotland, i.e. satellite and rocket manufacture, launch and data processing.

What are the timescales?

We are aiming for the first orbital launch towards the end of 2021. This is a UK Government target – competing against Sweden, Norway and the Azores for the first launch.

How long will construction of the site take?

The integration hangar is basically a large agricultural shed with a specialist floor so will be quite quick and simple to put up.

The launch pads will depend on whether they have a flame trench or stool, and this is down to the client.

We are talking months rather than years to construct.

Why are we not doing an EIA scoping as part of the planning submission?

There is no statutory requirement to carry out an EIA scoping exercise. The Council has been advised of the approach being taken.

A scoping exercise can be useful but experience would suggest that it can be a lengthy process. The time constraints associated with the project do not allow for this.

Each member of the EIA project team has/will contact the appropriate statutory bodies to scope out the content of their respective studies and assessments which will form an integral part of the EIA. Such an approach is not unusual and will not prejudice the content and outcomes of the EIA.

It is understood that RSPB have not been contacted to date. Is this correct?

The project ecologist has been in contact with RSPB previously but it is understood that there has been a change in personnel. In this regard, it may be that such contact has not been forwarded on. We will speak to the project ecologist and provide him with RSPB’s updated point of contact for the project.

We fully recognise that RSPB are an integral part of the EIA process and that engagement is important.

Is the use of drones applicable to the site? It’s been mentioned in other Scottish spaceport applications

It is a consideration, but it comes with its own issues and may not be appropriate.

Are you expecting visitors arriving to watch launches and has thought been given to indirect tourist effect?

It is very difficult to put a number on it but, experience of other sites around the world would suggest that spaceports and associated launches generate tourism.

We expect the proposals will lengthen the tourist season.

We expect visitors will be looking for other things to do in Unst when visiting for launches, which will have a wider tourist benefit for businesses in Unst.

We will be looking to provide a Visitor Management Plan as part of the suite of documents to support the planning application.

Will high speed broadband be needed for the Launch Control Centre and who will provide it?  Will it be available to the whole of Unst?

The Council are currently putting in a fibre optic cable. We were asked to write in support of its application, which we did.

We will need separate fibre links between the site and the launch control centre. There will be two cables for redundancy and security.

We expect that the whole of Unst will benefit from the installation of the fibre links.

Where will the tracking station be sited, and will there be more than one?

Unst is the perfect location for receiving information from satellites going overhead as it is at a high latitude.

Satellites will cross overhead every 90 minutes, so 16 times a day, and we will be able to interact with them for 9-11 of those passes.

As we develop the space centre, we will have antennas to bring this data down to be processed for clients and potentially stored. This will bring in other jobs.

Some of the antennas may be sited on Norwick Hill.

Will the site be lit up all the time?

It is anticipated that the site will only have to be lit when a launch is on or when work is being carried out on a launch pad.

The site will generally be dark as all of the work will be undertaken inside the hangars.

How can the spaceport go ahead when the site is designated by Historic Environment Scotland?  The buildings at Norwick and Skaw are C listed

The Scheduled Monument status of much of the site does not preclude new development.

The spaceport will be carefully and sensitively designed to avoid the remains of structures associated with RAF Skaw.

The proposals will have no direct impact on either listed building or their setting.

Have any formal archaeological surveys been done?

An archaeological assessment will be carried out as part of the EIA.

We have appointed an archaeologist to liaise with Historic Environment Scotland regarding the proposals and the need to secure Scheduled Monument Consent.

Any ground-breaking works on site will be monitored by an experienced archaeologist.

It is intended that any new building work associated with the proposals will not compromise the status and integrity of the SM designation.

We have completed a drone survey to obtain a 3D image and map and this will be given to Historic Environment Scotland as a current record of the site.

We will use virtual and augmented reality to create an image of the site as it was in the past.

What can SSC do about the integrity of the WWII buildings at Lamba Ness?  They have been deteriorating for years and some are dangerous now.  There needs to be assurance or a guarantee that SSC won’t be blamed for any further deterioration.

Without proper maintenance and/or management, the buildings will clearly continue to deteriorate. This will be discussed with Historic Environment Scotland as part of the EIA and Scheduled Monument Consent processes.

Are you able to guarantee that the satellites will not be used for defence purposes?

There may be government payloads, for example in support of environmental monitoring.

Some satellites are referred to as dual use which means they can be used for military or commercial purposes.

A commercial company can team up with a Government agency to put a satellite up and then the agency can use it on request.

There will be other non-military uses.

So, there is no guarantee that it won’t be used by Chinese or Russian military?

That is highly unlikely; they both have their own sites to launch from.

The UKSA has to licence all space activity. We require a licence as does the rocket company, the range and the satellite operator. Each has to declare their respective interests to the UKSA.

A satellite operator may sell data to Russian or Chinese clients but not to Russian or Chinese military.

We can’t give 100% guarantee, but it is not our intention for them to launch from us and it is highly unlikely.

How much does the siting of a space centre in Unst lead to risk of terrorist attack?

Throughout the UK there are areas that terrorists would want to attack.

We could become high profile, but we are a commercial company not a government site.

Again, no 100% guarantee, but we don’t think there is a high risk.

How long do satellites last in space before they run out of steam?

The Outer Space Treaty states they have to de-orbit within 25 years, although for the newer smaller satellites, this will probably be 5 years.

They have some fuel on board to allow them to move orbit as required, and this fuel is used to re-enter the atmosphere where they will burn up.

Currently there is a lot of ongoing work into Space Situational Awareness. As there is the potential for satellites to collide, we are looking to install a sensor in Unst to monitor the satellites.

100% of small satellites will burn up on re-entry. However, there is an area in the Pacific Ocean where larger ones are directed to re-enter.

Will access be restricted to the Lamba Ness site?

SSC are committed to maintaining public access to the site.

However, during some pre-launch operations there may be some short term, localised restrictions e.g. transferring the rocket from the hangar to the launch pad. During launch the site will need to be clear of people. We will begin this process a few hours prior to launch and look to re-open the site as soon as possible after the launch. There will therefore be short-term, temporary periods of restriction for safety reasons.

We aim to give lots of warning of a launch and will co-ordinate with residents, airspace, etc. to minimise length of restriction.

Workers will have to log in and out to access secure areas, but there are no plans to do this for the general public entering the site.

The topography of the site lends itself to ensuring that the area is clear of people.

A possible red flag system could be used or some form of traffic light system to make people aware of launch operations.

Fences around the launch pads and integration hangars will remain closed. However, the perimeter fence will be open when there are no launches or tests taking place.

The site will most likely be Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and therefore certain security requirements will be placed upon us.

We are looking to incorporate an all-abilities general public pathway to a wildlife hide at the end of Lamba Ness as part of the proposals.

We are also working with the Grazings Committee so sheep will still graze on the site and will only be moved off for launches.

People will still be able to drive to the site, but there may be restrictions on parking to avoid congestion.

An Access Management Plan, Visitor Management Plan and Construction Environmental Method Statement will form part of the EIA.

Public access to the site will be restricted for a short period during construction for safety reasons.

If it is CNI, it may not be in your gift to be open for access?

There are different levels of CNI, and we don’t expect to be the highest.

If there are restrictions imposed, we will seek to allow public access when we are not launching. However, if CPNI tell us we can’t, then it will be outwith our control.

How long will it take to clear the site after a launch?

That depends on the individual rocket, but it will just be the launch pad that is involved. Access can be reopened very quickly after launch.

Road improvement works to the launch site – what’s envisaged?

The types of vehicles that will come to the site are standard container lorries and fuel trucks –so no abnormal loads.

There are currently few passing places. We would like to increase their number to avoid disruption to local residents.

We may need to smooth off corners etc. and are working with SIC roads officers on this.

Any damage to public roads during construction would be repaired at SSC cost. It is anticipated that road improvement works would be a condition of planning permission.

What about vehicle movements?

We expect 2 or 3 separate container lorries per rocket. The payload, fuel and gases will be delivered on separate lorries. So, 5-6 lorries in total per launch.

There will be 30-50 specialist engineers accommodated on site per launch – we can expect vehicle movements associated with these engineers, mainly cars and small vans.

It is anticipated that more tourists will visit the island for launches.

Are there any plans to develop Baltasound airfield?

We will have to upgrade the existing fuel farm and put in new tanks and fencing.

Some clients are interested in using Baltasound airfield for light manufacturing. We are exploring this with them.

We could reopen the airfield for clients to fly in for launch, or for air ambulance or inter island flights. This has yet to be confirmed.

What kind of rocket fuel will be used?

Rocket Propellant 1 (RP1) is a derivative of kerosene, similar to and treated in the same way as aviation fuel. Any restricted zone will adhere to current regulations and will be almost identical to what is currently in place at Baltasound.

The fuel will be stored at the existing Baltasound fuel farm. The quantities involved will be much less than when the airfield was operational in the 1990s.

The fuel exclusion zone at Baltasound would be around the fuel cell site only.

The procedures for moving fuel are no different to tankers going to the Final Checkout.

What assurances can you give in terms of safety and explosions?

Safety is the No 1 concern for the UKSA. We need to produce a “safety case” to obtain a licence from the UKSA to operate. This will include all procedures for fuel storage and transfer to Lamba Ness.

Would fuel storage impact on houses, domestic insurance etc.?

Not expected to be any issues. Fuel is essentially the same as that stored before (kerosene based).

What is oxidiser?

Most rockets carry liquid oxygen to allow fuel to burn at altitude. Other gases are also required – nitrogen and helium – and are used for tank pressurisation.

Gases will be stored in specific containers. They will be brought to site and stored at the launch pad just prior to launch.

What is the risk of pollution from fuel?

Rocket launches only require a small amount of fuel. As in any combustion process, gases will be produced during launch.

The EIA will consider gases released and their potential impact on air quality. This information is also needed for the Airspace Change process.

Do you anticipate any need to improve the port at Baltasound?  Will any of the major rocket components be brought in that way?

Use of the port at Baltasound is a possibility but we expect all components and commodities etc. to come in via Lerwick. There should be no impact on the port.

The rocket components will be transported in standard containers by sea to Lerwick then by road to Unst.

Rocket companies want to keep it as simple as possible with no bespoke system requirements.

Shetland has an excellent supply chain built up over years to support the oil and gas industry.

What impact will an accident on site have and will specialist fire crews be needed?

The UKSA will advise on what is required. We need to have a safety case in place to deal with any major accident.

We would clear people from the site before a launch so there would be no reason to try to fight a fire on a launch pad as there would be no danger to the general public, just infrastructure. Any damage to infrastructure can be dealt with by the insurance company.

This doesn’t mean we won’t look to work with the local fire service. We will establish what is required and discuss this with them.

A lot of local support is based on the promise of jobs – how many skilled or unskilled jobs will there be and are any of them permanent or will staff be brought in by rocket companies?

The number of roles depends on the success of the project. In addition to full-time roles, there will be opportunities for apprenticeships and to up-skill local residents.

A wide spectrum of new jobs/roles will be required which will be offered to Unst residents first, Shetland second and Scotland third etc.

We cannot put a definitive figure on jobs but there will be a number of full-time jobs such as security, engineers, electricians, IT, fuelling and oxidising.

Rocket companies will bring in 30-50 specialist personnel who will require accommodation at Saxa Vord so there will be associated jobs there.

There will be part time jobs related specifically to launch days such as clearing the site and crowd control.

There will be a wide breadth of skill sets required.

Some jobs are very specialist and it is unlikely that anyone local could do these at present. However, it will be something for young people to aspire to and to come back to Unst to do in the future.

We are working with schools to enthuse pupils and encourage them to get into STEM subjects.

We have been working with universities including Edinburgh and Strathclyde to bring students and academia together, and there could be the possibility of a PhD facility based in Lerwick using SSC as its site.

Along with direct jobs, there will be a positive knock on for the tourism industry and other businesses in Unst.

You said you want jobs to be available to Unst residents first, then wider Shetland, then further afield.  Is this legal and could it be viewed as discrimination?

We are a private commercial enterprise, so we are less restricted than a public body.

We understand that we would not be breaching any legislative rules by adopting the suggested priority approach. However, we will take advice on this.

What is meant by “high end” jobs?

Highly qualified people. It is not known at present what qualifications these people will need.

SSC will obviously make money during a launch, but will there be a need to spread launches out throughout the year to ensure a steady income?

We probably won’t be doing launches during December and January, so income will be in peaks and troughs.

We need to balance income/revenue out, so we may ask for launch deposits up front in order to help ensure secure jobs through a steady flow of income.

What is the Community Benefit Fund and how will it be administered?

The exact figure is currently being considered.

SSC would like to set up a ‘community steering group’ to discuss the operation of the site and how funds are spent etc.

It is anticipated that setting up a ‘community liaison group’ would be a specific condition of planning permission. In any event, SSC are wholly committed to this.

What will be the reach of the Community Benefit Fund and who is it for – Unst, Northern Isles or all of Shetland?

The focus will be on Unst but the specific detail of the fund is not known at this time.  

It would be helpful if Unst Community Council could put forward ideas of how the fund could be managed equitably across all sectors of the community.

What is the lifespan of the project?

Our lease is for 30 years so it will be at least that.

There will be a lot of people involved in the launch site if it is successful and goes ahead – the UK Government, Scottish Government, rocket companies and landowners – what will be left for the community?

The first thing will be secure jobs for local people. We can’t confirm an actual number but there will be a variety of both full-time and part-time positions.

Through job creation, it is hoped that this will help retain people on Unst and reduce the risk of depopulation and secure the future of community facilities, such as the school and the medical centre.

Transport links to Unst may improve and there should also be a boost to the local economy through increased tourism.

As noted above, there will also be a community fund.

When the RAF was in Shetland, it looked after the community. Will Unst residents be looked after in that way again?

We certainly intend this to be the case, with the community and industry knitted together.

We want a sustainable secure business to provide permanent jobs and we want a long-term relationship with the customers who will be using SSC.

We see ourselves as a local company.

What are the plans for the Saxa Vord site?

We plan to build the Launch & Range Control Centre there.

A number of existing buildings will be upgraded to offices for visiting engineers working on their launch.

Rocket company personnel will be accommodated at Saxa Vord and use the on site facilities.

The overall complex needs to be upgraded and will be the subject of a separate planning application in the future.

We aim to utilise existing buildings but long term, some may be demolished and rebuilt.

Where does this site sit in the overall selection process? What’s been learnt from other planning applications at Sutherland and the Western Isles?

Sites can’t be easily compared due to different environmental considerations/designations as they relate to the specific geographical locations.

We are aware that objections have been made to the other planning applications, but ‘like for like’ comparisons can’t be drawn.

Is there is a danger post-Covid-19 that there may not be a requirement for more than one spaceport? Will you be able to continue if SSC are not the official UK-backed one?

The UKSA will support all UK spaceports including us.

Sutherland received a grant from the UKSA, but it is not the UK designated spaceport.

There is no definitive limit on the number of spaceports that could be accommodated in the UK, particularly northern Scotland.

How aware are the politicians and are they supportive?

We provide regular updates to Westminster, Holyrood, the local MP and MSP, and The Shetland Islands Council and they are all supportive in principle.

There appears to be a lack of interest in the consultation given the number of people on the online forum?

The perception of lack of interest is not borne out by the figures. Given that Unst has a population of circa 600, from experience, the number of people who have visited the website, but not necessarily joined the forum debate, has been significant as a percentage of the overall population.

Some people might feel uncomfortable speaking in a public forum. In this regard, it was noted that a number of people had just been listening to the conversation online without asking questions. For example, today has seen up to 40 people on the forum for most of the day.

A number of completed questionnaires and emails with comments had been received.

A representative of Unst Community Council confirmed online that a comprehensive response to questions raised by the community (and drawn together by the Community Council) had been provided by SSC and would be made available to view online shortly.

[Postscript: Evidence gathered over the three days of the online public consultation event show that the website was visited over 300 times which would indicate a strong interest in the project and a significant response rate]

There needs to be more dialogue with the community. There hasn’t been enough before now.  The project team need to do a face-to-face meeting(s) as not everyone is comfortable using technology. 

SSC is wholly committed to community engagement.

We will do face-to-face consultation as soon as Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed and we are allowed to do so. In this regard, the intention is to hold a further three day public consultation event in September this year, prior to formal submission of the planning application(s).

We did some community roadshows in the summer of 2018 (including UnstFest) and we have had continued dialogue/correspondence with Unst Community Council and local Councillors.

We have not been able to tell much before now as it is in only in recent months that a concept design for the launch site has been prepared following discussions and agreement with the relevant safety bodies such as the UKSA. We are now able to share a level of detailed information that wasn’t available to us before now on which tangible comments can be made. Until recently, we would not have been able to answer any questions in detail. Therefore, any formal public consultation before now would have been meaningless.

We are actually doing significantly more than is required by statute. We are only required to hold one public consultation event but are hosting three and there will be another three (total six) in early September before formal submission of the planning application(s). It is also intended to have further public consultation once the proposals have been formally submitted to the Council as part of the determination process. SSC fully appreciate that public consultation is a continuing process.

SSC are fully aware that not everyone is comfortable using technology and that not everyone has access to IT and/or the internet. It is also acknowledged that broadband connections on Unst can be poor. In recognition of this, again going beyond what is required by statute, SSC circulated via Royal Mail an information leaflet and questionnaire to every household on the island which contained precisely the same information available online and afford an opportunity to view the proposals and make comments without recourse to IT.

It will likely be a condition of the planning permission that we set up a Community Liaison Group to keep everyone updated. Even if this were not to be a condition, SSC is wholly committed to creating such a group that would keep local residents updated during the construction and operational phases.

Is the consultation being minuted, and will people be able to read it?

The questions and answers are being recorded and will ultimately form an integral part of the Pre-Application Community Consultation Report which will be formally submitted to the Council as part of the planning application(s).  

Once collated and summarised, the Q&As from all three days of the consultation will be posted on SSC’s website.


Shetland Space Centre/Farningham Planning Ltd

June 2020