Protesters call on Scottish Government to withdraw spaceport support

Protesters say spaceports could cause environmental harm in Scotland (Image: NQ)

Protesters say spaceports could cause environmental harm in Scotland (Image: NQ)

By Ross Hunter,
Published by The National, 3 October 2023

CAMPAIGNERS are calling on the Scottish Government to withdraw support for new spaceports in Scotland.

Protesters from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and Drone Wars UK appeared outside Holyrood on Tuesday to highlight concerns about the environmental impact of the facilities and their role in bolstering militarism.

There are currently plans for at least five new spaceports in Scotland.

However, campaigners drew particular attention to three: the Saxa Vord spaceport in Unst, Shetland; the Orbex spaceport on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland; and a spaceport in North Uist being proposed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in conjunction with private military contractor QinetiQ.

Lynn Jamieson, the chair of the Scottish CND, said all the projects posed a threat to biodiversity.

She told The National: “The places where these rockets are set to be launched are very fragile ecosystems.

“The one in Shetland is right by Hermaness, one of the largest seabird colonies in the UK that is of international importance.

“The one in the Western Isles is right by machair, which is a very rare and very fragile grassland habitat.

“These companies will try and tell you that their rocket fuel is more environmentally sound than others that have caused disasters in the past.

“But the fact remains that if you spill gallons of it, it will cause environmental damage.

“It is still carbon-based and putting it into the upper atmosphere will contribute to climate change, too.”

The planned location of the Orbex spaceport in Sutherland

“Taken over by militarism”

The Scottish Government has previously said that spaceports represent a “great opportunity”. Indeed, ministers say that the country is well-placed to become “a leading European space nation”. But Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said that the industry in Scotland must not be permitted to prop up an increasingly militarised view of space. “It’s important that with the development of spaceports in Scotland we have at the forefront our minds their use for good in the world,” she said. “We need infrastructure in space, we need an understanding of our meteorological systems, and these technologies are a very important part of that. “But we need to make sure that public investments – indeed, all the investment going into this – is for that positive understanding.

“What Greens don’t want to see is that really important research, innovation and scientific discovery be co-opted by and taken over by militarism.”

A code of space ethics 

Last year, the UK Government published its Defence Space Strategy and described space as the fifth operational domain of the military alongside cyber, maritime, air and land.

The report vowed to increase military spending – which has already increased by more than £8 billion since 2020 – in order to “protect and defend our national interests in and through space”.

The UK Space Agency has also said that spaceport facilities are vital for the launch of satellites to collect data on climate change.

But Peter Burt from the campaign group Drone Wars UK told The National that a code of space ethics must be drawn up before the spaceports begin accepting contracts from the Ministry of Defence.

“The fact is that a lot of spaceport investment is military investment,” he said.

“We already know we are in real trouble with climate change; we don’t need more data to tell us that – we need action to stop it.

“The UK Space Agency, instead of greenwashing its projects, needs to come up with a code of space ethics and use that to govern the kinds of projects it invests in.”

The campaigners have appealed to the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on nuclear disarmament to support their calls for the Scottish Government to oppose rather than support spaceports.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

“The Scottish Government takes its obligation as a good global citizen seriously, and last year launched the world’s first Sustainable Space Roadmap – developed by industry and supported through Scottish Enterprise – to encourage responsible use of space.

“We have set out our ambitions for Scotland to become the first European country to provide an end-to-end solution for small satellite manufacture – designing, building, launching and running missions before extracting and analysing the data.  

“Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations with the aim of ending poverty and hunger by 2030, data from satellites plays a critical role in 13 goals and contributes to the remaining four. Through environmental and climate monitoring, space has a key role in the fight against climate change and spaceports have worked to reduce their environmental impact as part of the planning process.

“The responsibility for spaceflight regulation and defence are reserved to the UK Government.”

See: Original Article