THE Danish billionaire objecting to a spaceport near his Highland estate has invested almost £1.5m in a rival site on Shetland.

Anders Povlsen, Scotland’s biggest landowner, has boosted a proposed space centre on Unst, which is currently lagging in the race to be Scotland’s first vertical rocket launch site.

The £1.43m investment is being made by Mr Povlsen’s company Wild Ventures Ltd, which said it wanted spaceports built “in the right place”.

Mr Povlsen, who owns 220,000 across the Highlands after amassing £6bn from a family retail business, has long objected to the creation of a Space Hub Sutherland near Tongue.

Mr Polvsen owns a sporting lease on the site earmarked for the project on the Melness Crofting Estate, south of Tongue, as well as land nearby.

Earlier this month another of his firms, Wild Land Ltd, lodged a judicial review petition against Highland Council’s decision to give the Sutherland site planning permission.

Wild Land Ltd claims the Council made a “flawed decision” without sufficiently rigorous  impact assessments about the effect on the wildlife of the A’Mhoine Peninsula.

Scotland’s richest man, Mr Povlsen says he had a “200 year vision” to rewild his adopted homeland;s “most vulnerable, precious and mysteriously beautiful landscapes”.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is backing the £17.3m Sutherland hub, insists it undertook a series of detailed assessments as part of the planning process.

The Sutherland site hopes to launch 12 satellites a year from 2022.

The Shetland Space Centre has yet to get planning permission for its site at Lamba Ness, although has recently been backed by US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

Commenting on Mr Povlsen’s investment in the Shetland Space Centre, Tim Kirkwood, for Wild Ventures Limited, said: “We have long been supportive of the idea that, if developed appropriately, the space industry can deliver great benefits for Scotland’s rural economy

“What is needed is the right development in the right place.

“As a project involving an ex-RAF base, a brownfield site, a promising location, and now with backing from HIE, the UKSA and Lockheed Martin, it has become clear that Shetland Space Centre is a realistic investment prospect to be asked to be involved with.

“Even so, a planning application for a sensitive area has yet to be lodged and a high environmental bar will need to be thoroughly crossed. 

“As a minority investor we look forward to watching its progress with interest.”

Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “They have done their diligence on the space economy and got to grips with their understanding of the industry and the commercial realities of the space sector.

“The Scottish Space Leadership Council and Scottish Spaceports Alliance are united in their belief that space is a force for good and that the technologies associated with the sector can be harnessed to support initiatives that protect the environment

“All the various facets associated with the space sector, such as sustainability, STEM, education, business start-up, research and development and innovation, are core to the Wild Ventures ethos and we are completely aligned in our vision as to how space science and nature can combine to create an exemplar.”

Orbex, the satellite company which has already secured contracts for six launches at the Sutherland site, said it welcomed Mr Povlsen's acceptance of space ports near sensitive environmental sites.

The firm said it was a "significant reversal of position and an acknowledgement that spaceports and wildland environments can happily co-exist".

An Orbex spokesperson said: "This investment by Wildland and renowned environmentalist Anders Povlsen is a massive vote of confidence in Sutherland spaceport.

"We're absolutely delighted that Wild Land and Mr Povlsen have completely reversed their position, and now fully agree that small, sustainable spaceports like Sutherland can peacefully co-exist with wildland environments, avian sanctuaries and marine mammals.

"We look forward to a much larger investment in the spaceport at Sutherland, which has many fewer environmental constraints, in due course."