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Orbex supports Scottish peatland restoration research

Posted 16 November 2023

UK-based orbital launch services company, Orbex, is supporting research work to monitor Scottish peatland restoration using satellite and ground radar data.

Above: University of Stirling PhD student Georgina Page at Sutherland Spaceport site with peat extracted during construction.
Courtesy Orbex

Georgina Page (above), a PhD student at the University of Stirling is leading a pioneering project to improve our understanding of the role changing water levels play in peatland restoration. By monitoring the fluctuations in water levels, the initiative will assess the success of existing and future peatland restoration projects.

Peatlands – such as those covering 200,000 hectares of Caithness and Sutherland, and the location of Sutherland Spaceport – are increasingly recognised as valuable carbon stores, storing more carbon than all other types of vegetation combined. They are capable of mitigating the effects of climate change and, although many peatlands across the UK have been degraded, restoration work is effective and makes a significant impact in reducing emissions.

Ms Page’s project will study peatland for the effects of seasonal surface fluctuations, also known as bog breathing. Her work, which is backed by Nature Scot’s peatland restoration programme, Peatland ACTION, will use data from a high-resolution remote sensing radar known as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to model the water table changes. As part of the project, Ms Page will also use a small amount of peat taken from the Sutherland Spaceport (formerly Space Hub Sutherland) site to recreate a bog in the laboratory that can be closely monitored in a controlled setting.

Sustainability is a core driver in the design of Orbex’s advanced, low-carbon, high-performance micro-launcher. Its reusable rocket, Orbex Prime, has been engineered to leave zero debris in orbit. The rocket is fuelled by a renewable form of propane, meaning that a Prime launch has a carbon footprint up to 96 percent lower than satellite launch vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

Georgina said: "Monitoring peatland restoration is a step towards improving carbon capture. We are measuring the water table depth in peatlands using advanced satellite SAR technology.

The results of this experiment will help us assess the success of restoration efforts and, in future, enable us to identify peatland areas that would benefit most from restoration.”

Orbex’s Sutherland Spaceport is located on the north coast of Scotland, in the heart of Scotland’s peatlands. The facility is being built and operated by Orbex, under a fifty-year lease on land owned and managed by the Melness Crofters Estate (MCE). As with the Orbex Prime rocket, Sutherland Spaceport is being built with sustainability in mind and is intended to be the first spaceport globally to be carbon-neutral in its construction and operation.

Peat lifted during the construction will be re-used to repair large areas of peatland that have degraded over centuries and a peat management plan is in place to support this activity.
Ph D student Georgina Page at Sutherland Spaceport site with peat extracted during construction 2 Courtesy of Orbex 1

Martin Coates, CEO, Orbex, said: “Peatland preservation is essential to supporting a sustainable, low-carbon future. In Scotland, peat bogs are responsible for storing 1.7 billion tons of carbon. We are delighted that the beautiful peatlands that Sutherland Spaceport calls home can play a part to support this research into mitigating the harmful effects of climate change. That’s why Orbex is championing the important work of Georgina and the University of Stirling in understanding more to achieve peat restoration.”

Dorothy Pritchard, Chair, Melness Crofters Estate, said: “It’s encouraging to see this research project taking place and the collaboration between Orbex and the University of Stirling which will help us understand more about the restoration of peat, one of our vital assets. Sustainability was a key factor in the decision to support the Sutherland Spaceport, both thanks to the carbon-neutral construction and operation of the facility but also Orbex’s commitment to support peatland restoration.”

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