This is a nice example of improved wildlife conservation in the UK, something which always pleases me. SaxaVord Spaceport, are building a spaceport on the island of Unst, one of the Shetland Islands. It’s a remote place which I guess is why it was chosen but, on the island, there is a load of nice wildlife including otters and sea birds which need protection.
In order to discharge their responsibilities towards wildlife conservation, SaxaVord have agreed to create “additional holts and shelters, many with soundproofing from turfs” to give otters the chance to hide from the noise of launches and warning sirens.
The business has already built an underpass for otters to allow them to get across a road that will be used to transport rockets to the launchpad.
Britain can expect the spaceport to be in operation next year. It is the country’s first “vertical” spaceport. The island of Unst harbours a total of 135 species including puffins, plovers, merlins and Artic turns. All of them are within an area where they could be affected by the explosive noise of rocket launches.
The details of SaxaVord’s conservation are set out in a consultation document published by the Civil Aviation Authority which looked at the environmental impact of launching rocket into space from Shetland.
Separately, the first rocket to be launched into space from the UK will take off from Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay airport. It will be fixed underneath a Boeing 747 which will carry the rocket to 36,000 feet where it will ignite and blast off into orbit.
The SaxaVord vertical spaceport will be the first site in Europe for vertical rocket launches which describes rocket launches from the ground taking off vertically as we often see from America on those fantastic journeys to the moon and to the international space station.
The company has already created a concrete launch base which was completed last week.
In all, seven spaceports are planned for the UK. There will be five in Scotland, one in Cornwall and one in Wales. The rockets will be between 13 m (42 feet) and 30 m tall. They will carry small satellites into polar orbits. Smaller rockets between 1.5 m and 8 m will take scientific equipment into a sub-orbital path.
There are plans for 30 launches annually and the first is planned to take place late next year.
They predict that there will be thousands of tourists to Unst to watch the launches. The island has a small population of 600. The spaceport might create around 140 jobs.
Some wildlife species are particularly noise sensitive such as the red-throated diver and merlin. It is hoped that there will be no negative impact on the breeding capacity of the species by the sudden noises.
They hope that the warning siren will “give otters warning to swim underwater or find refuge in a shelter where noise levels are likely to be reduced”. There is a concern that the launches will nonetheless disturb otters within their holts.