In January 2021 an application was made to Shetland Islands Council for a vertical launch spaceport. The proposal includes 3 launch pads which would be used to propel small satellites into space. A maximum of 30 launches are proposed in a year, including during the bird breeding season. The applicant says that the longest rockets fired from the site would be 30m in length.
The applicant submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with the application which assesses if there would be likely to be 'significant' effects from the development, including on the environment, habitats and birds. They have also looked at other aspects such as carbon impacts and how many jobs might be created if it went ahead.
RSPB Scotland initially objected to the application due to concerns that the noise from the rocket launches would impact on protected breeding birds. The Hermaness, Saxa Vord and Valla Field Special Protection Area (SPA) is about 3.79km from the nearest proposed launch pad. We did not think that the application demonstrated that the development would not adversely affect this SPA (which is a protected area for internationally important populations of birds). In addition, we thought they needed to provide more information on how they would avoid harmful impacts on two species of rare birds which breed on Unst.
We also raised some concerns about their proposals to offset impacts on peat, carbon emissions and birds.
In November 2021 the Applicant submitted more information as an addition to the EIA. They confirmed that they were willing not to carry out any rocket launches between mid-May and the end of June, to avoid the most sensitive part of the bird breeding season. This has enabled RSPB Scotland to withdraw our objection, provided that a condition is attached to any permission securing this restriction.
They will also need to provide information on how they will avoid disturbing breeding birds, and submit a breeding birds protection plan.
Shetland Island Council is now minded to grant permission, with conditions attached, including one to prevent launches during mid-may to the end of June.