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Business / Aerospace giant likely to shift support from Sutherland to Shetland

The space centre at Lamba Nessin Unst is expected to create hundreds of jobs in Shetland and further afield.Image: Shetland Space Centre

AEROSPACE giant Lockheed Martin has reportedly signalled its intent to switch its support from the proposed Sutherland spaceport to Shetland Space Centre – potentially bringing millions into the Unst-based project.

Lockheed Martin had previously been given over £23 million of funding from the UK space agency to establish vertical launch operations at Sutherland, as well as to develop an “innovative new system in Reading for deploying small satellites”.

In 2018 it signed a memorandum of understanding with Shetland Space Centre over creating a satellite tracking and communication centre on the UK’s most northerly island.

But now Lockheed Martin appears to be keen to shift its funding for vertical launches in Sutherland – which was given funding by the UK space agency and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to become the first spaceport in the country – to Shetland.

According to the Scottish Mail on Sunday the UK space minister Amanda Solloway is expected to sign off the deal this week.

The move doesn’t come entirely unexpected but so far nothing has been confirmed locally.

The mooted Sutherland project, which was awarded a total of £17.3 million of public money, has not been without its problems, with the development opposed by some in the area.

Last month HIE lodged a planning application for the project with Highland Council.

It remains unclear how Lockheed Martin pulling out its initial support will affect the Sutherland project.

The team behind Shetland Space Centre has always maintained that Unst is the better location for launching satellites due to its route into orbit.

A company spokesman said on Monday: “We have been working very closely with Lockheed Martin since we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them on ground station activity back in July 2018.

“Any potential change to the UK Space Agency’s grant to Lockheed Martin is a matter for the government, and we await further developments with interest.

“In the meantime, we are forging ahead with our work with a range of partners and hope to submit an outline planning application very shortly.

“The space industry knows that in UK terms, Shetland is the number one vertical launch site and we look forward to making regular rocket launches from Unst a reality.”

Last month Shetland Space Centre welcomed a £2 million investment from private equity firm Leonne International, with its team hoping to enter the “first stages of gaining the necessary permissions and licences required to operate the facility”.