Space company rockets into Machrihanish

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By Mark Davey

Machrihanish’s first space company may not use the whole runway for launches but it plans to place satellites in orbit.

Earlier this year it seemed like a site in Sutherland had beaten Machrihanish in the race for space, but, TAO Technologies UK Ltd, had begun exploratory talks with the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company last December.

In September Courier reporter Hannah O’Hanlon tried to unearth the story but due to commercial sensitivity MACC would not be drawn on the plans.

TAO already uses the Gaydon hanger to assemble its  high altitude Skydragon  helium balloons for testing and is planning launches for 2020.

Today the firm, whose parent company is based in Germany, announced it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company.

Under the memorandum TAO will develop part of MACC’s site as a High Altitude Platform (HAP) and altitude satellite launch location.

Managing director Glenn Jones told the Courier: ‘It is a multi-million pound investment.

‘The Skydragon is essentially a helium filled balloon which is guided by advanced telemetry to high altitude where it can launch cube satellites.’

MACC’s Malcolm McMillan said: ‘We have been working with TAO since December last year.

‘The agreement will bring new infrastructure to the site and investment and jobs to the area.’

Mr McMillan said he has been trying to divert questions about the operations till the agreement was announced.

TAO Tech will manufacture its aerial vehicles at the site which will also act as a nano satellite space port.

CASLES (CapAm Space Launch Engineering Solutions) LTD, and its UK space launch consortium members, CST, AEL, Nammo and SpacePort1, and their partner, QinetiQ Ltd, are working to support TAO.

Mr Jones added: ‘The TAO Group is one the of world’s leading HAP developers, specialising in designing and building robust, reliable, highly capable, reusable and cost-effective aero-vehicles, known as SkyDragon.

‘The SkyDragon product is a unique class of vehicle that can travel safely to an altitude of around 60,000ft, to the beginning of the region of the atmosphere known as ‘Near Space,’ carrying a payload of up to one tonne.

‘The SkyDragon can carry out its operations for weeks, either on station or following a flight path and then return safely to the Earth’s surface, ready for re-use.

‘SkyDragons are designed to address civilian and military missions.

‘It is also designed to address civilian uses for scientific, regulatory monitoring, disaster and humanitarian response.

‘For emergency communications particularly in remote areas, where the telecommunication infrastructure and the antenna masts are destroyed.

‘The SkyDragon platform has an additional capability of being able to deliver emergency supplies to military/ communities/ scientific teams by means of a steerable parachute-descending sub-drone.

‘This leading edge technology has been developed by TAO Technologies GmbH Germany and will be further developed, produced, commercialised and operated internationally by TAO from its British HQ at Machrihanish.’