The UK aims to build its first spaceport for launching satellites in Scotland, with the Government kick-starting the project by handing almost £30m pounds in grants to companies including Lockheed Martin.

UK Business Minister Greg Clark said the new site at Sutherland, on the northerly-most tip of mainland Scotland, would provide facilities for vertically-launched space rockets and satellites to take off into orbit.

Under the plans announced on today, US group Lockheed and its partners will receive £23.5m in grants from the UK Space Agency which will go towards establishing launch operations at Sutherland, and developing a new system for deploying small satellites in Reading, southern England.

London-based Orbex has received £5.5m to build a new rocket launch from the site at Sutherland, which will help develop its orbital launch vehicle to deliver the small satellites into orbit. The Government said the investments were the first steps to developing a national space programme.

Clark said: “As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our modern Industrial Strategy. The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites.

“This will build on our global reputation for manufacturing small satellites and help the whole country capitalise on the huge potential of the commercial space age. In addition, the UK Government is also making available a new £2 million fund to boost further horizontal launch spaceport sites across Britain – such as Glasgow Prestwick.”

Welcoming the announcement Scottish Secretary David Mundell added: The UK Government is driving the commercial space age and Scotland is leading the way. We are investing £2.5 million in a vertical launch site in Sutherland which will create hundreds of new jobs. And we will invest a further £2 million in horizontal launch sites – Prestwick is in the running for that and I wish them well.

“Scotland is uniquely positioned to pilot the UK’s commercial space sector and the UK Government recognises this potential. The opportunities are considerable, launching a new age for British industry.”

The commercial space sector is estimated to be worth a potential £3.8b to the UK economy over the next decade and will support Britain’s modern Industrial Strategy by creating high-skilled jobs and boosting local economies. The Government said that the UK Space Agency selected the Sutherland site because Scotland is “the best place in the UK to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets”.