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We Have Lift-Off!

It’s potentially one of the biggest developments ever for Moray and the Highlands – the possibility that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic could use RAF Lossiemouth as a spaceport. 

Virgin are planning to open up the market for space tourism with SpaceShipTwo. The spaceship will be carried up to above 15,000 metres by its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo. It will then ignite a rocket engine and complete the rest of the journey under its own power. 

Passengers will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and experience weightlessness. 

WhiteKnightTwo is now going through its trials, and SpaceShipTwo is expected to be unveiled by the end of the year.

The company will start operations at New Mexico in 2011, and from there spread out to other sites. It's estimated that if all goes well, they could be launching from Lossiemouth in 2013. 

So within five years' time, the north of Scotland could be on the world spaceport map – and a member of a club which at the moment has now little more than 30 members. 

The implications are immense. A spaceport is a big visitor attraction, bring large numbers of people to the area round about to watch take-offs and generally see the associated facilities. A tourist ‘must see’ can make a big economic impact: it’s been estimated that the Moray Firth dolphins bring £8 million annual income to the north and sustain 400 jobs. 

The technical requirements for a spaceport open up opportunities for sourcing supplies and services from local companies, or from external businesses deciding to relocate into the area. 

This is turn means the scope for developing hi-tech centres – and a hi-tech image which can add to the potential for economic development.

There’s not so long to prepare – less than five years. So to start the process, the Highland Science Festival and the Spaceport Scotland group got together with Fusion, the organisation that stimulates innovation and entrepreneurship in the Highlands & Islands by bringing entrepreneurs together with people and groups that can help them. 

Fusion ran an event on Thursday 6 November, as a key first step in mapping out the way to take fullest advantage of a spaceport development.

"Virgin Galactic's interest in Lossiemouth represents a HUGE potential boost for the area," says Paula Kirby of Fusion. "It would create enormous opportunities in tourism, scientific research, education, infrastructure – the list is almost endless.

"But, as always, to make the most of any opportunities it is essential to be ahead of the game. So the aim of this event was to first of all briefly explain what is being considered for Lossiemouth, and then to break into workgroups to identify the many, many business opportunities that would result from this development – and the ways of turning them into reality."

The event, organised with Fusion's well-known expertise, was a big success with an excellent turnout of participants – in fact it was certainly one of the highlights of this year's Festival. Warm thanks go to the Fusion team for putting it together, and to everyone who took part.

And you can follow the progress of the possibilities for Lossiemouth on the Spaceport Scotland website.

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