A SATELLITE launch site on the northern coast of Scotland could be operational by 2020 should plans be given the green light.
Aerospace chiefs have reportedly pinpointed the A'Mhoine peninsula, about 40 miles west of Dounreay, as the ideal spot to centre their multi-million-pound rocket base.
The proposals come from a consortium, which includes American engineering giants Lockheed Martin, with submissions already made to the UK Space Agency (UKSA).
It is hoped the venture, which will see satellites launched into orbit on behalf of governments and the private sector,- could spark a major boost to the economy.
The UKSA is aiming to command about a tenth of the global market, which is expected to be worth about Pounds 400billion by 2030.
However, the A'Mhoine plan may still face some significant opposition because construction of the spaceport would likely require access roads to be built across wild land.
The Scottish Government has not yet given its commitment, though members of the UKSA have met representatives from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to discuss moving the plan forward.
The A'Mhoine facility could see up to eight rocket launches a year, capable of carrying as many as 12 small cube satellites into orbit around the Earth.
A spokesman for the UKSA said: "Our aim is to grow new markets in the UK for small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight, that might support multiple service providers or spaceports."
Paul Davey, of the Lockheed MartinUK space programme, added: "We have submitted a proposal for grant funding into the UKSA satellite launch programmed, the outcome of which will be known this summer.
"This follows more than two years of dialogue with the relevant Scottish agencies."
This week, MPs will debate the Space Industry Bill, which could grant new powers to license a wide range of spaceflight activities, including vertically-launched rockets, space planes, satellite operation, spaceports and other technologies.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson previously said: "The Space Industry Bill will ensure the UK remains a leading player in the commercial space age by enabling small satellite launch from UK space ports.
"The measures in the bill will help make the UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial launch and enable UK businesses to capture a growing share of this emerging global market."
Commercial space flight in Britain has slowly been developing over the last few years, though the Government had previously set a target of 2018 to have a port up and running.
A'Mhoine may well provide a boost to the industry, but several other sites, including Prestwick, Stornoway and Machrihanish, may still become space tourism hubs in the near future.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Scotland has a proud history in the design and building of satellites and will consider all opportunities to expand this further."
Helen McDade, head of policy at the John Muir Trust, the conservation charity, raised some concerns about the impact of a spaceport at A'Mhoine.
She said the area around the proposed facility had been designated as a national scenic area and noted for rare species such as greenshank and golden eagles.
Credit: Iain Smith
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