The UK is building three spaceports
Graham Peters Chair of UKspace, the trade association of the UK space industry, said: “Launch sites in the UK could be used to launch small satellites into polar orbits, we are very well situated for that from locations near the Atlantic. He added: “Companies like Clyde Space in Scotland are building small nano-satellites. These could be launched safely from the planned spaceports of Sutherland in Scotland, Preswick Airport and Newquay in Cornwall, using smaller rockets to drive down costs and be more responsive.
“The launch site in Sutherland is being supported by the local government with the UK Space Agency putting money in and companies like Lockheed Martin investing in all the vehicles and structures for launch.
“For the first time we will have the ability to launch from UK soil.”
The Sutherland Space hub is being developed by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). It is supported by £17.3 million funding, which includes £2.5 million from the UK Government, £9.8 million from its own budget, and the remaining £5 million is being sought from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
Cornwall and Newquay Airport are developing the horizontal launch site called Spaceport Cornwall, in partnership with Cornwall Council, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Virgin Orbit and Goonhilly Earth Station. The site aims to be ready by 2020-2021 and will be used for launching small satellites.
Glasgow Prestwick Airport, currently owned by the Scottish Government, is leading work to develop a horizontal spaceport in collaboration with South Ayrshire Council, Scottish Enterprise, and a host of industry partners.
Speaking of the possibilities for Space Tourists to gain access to the earth orbit from UK soil, Mr Peters said: “Virgin Galactic would be the company that could launch humans into space.
“Virgin Orbit are planning to launch satellites from Newquay with a future possibility of launching tourists from Cornwall with their sister company Virgin Galactic. “
Mr Peters was optimistic about the effects of Brexit and the possibility of a no-deal on the UK space industry.
Sutherland in Scotland will have a vertical launch pad
He said: “Because of Brexit we will be losing out on our ability to be involved in EU programs, but I would describe our attitude now as nervous optimism.
“What we have seen under the change of leadership with Boris Johnson is a more let’s get things done attitude amongst our sector.
“He spoke about increasing the space budget.
“We have a much more positive view, so we are now hoping he puts his money where his mouth is, we our optimistic, there could be a new dawn breaking for the UK space industry.
“We hope we can really do something powerful in this post Brexit era.”
He added: “The UK has never had a national space program, but we are now calling on the government to create one and to commit £150m a year to be matched by industry to grow new and existing businesses to commercialise R&D in areas like Ai, quantum technology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.
“France have just announced in July that they are creating a Space Command, this echoes the enthusiasm coming from both private and governmental industries in many countries around the world.
Mr Peters described the current exciting possibilities of in-orbit assemblies of satellites launched from UK sites.
Boris Johnson has pledged more money for the UK’s space industry sector
He said: “So instead of launching a full satellite from the ground you could use techniques such as robotics and 3D printing to assemble a satellite in orbit.
“The enormous advantage is that you do not have to ensure the satellite is designed to withstand the harsh conditions of launch and enables much larger satellites and structures to be built in space.”
The UK Government and the space industry have ambitions to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030.
Virgin Orbit revealed its plans to conduct orbital rocket launches from Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021.
To reach space, Virgin Orbit has designed and built a one-of-a-kind air-launch platform that uses a modified former Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 aircraft aptly named Cosmic Girl.
Cosmic Girl carries a LauncherOne rocket under her left wing, and deploys the rocket around cruising altitude before it jettisons off to space with a customer’s small satellite tucked away in its fairing.
Spaceport Cornwall is partnering with Virgin Orbit and the RAF.
Plans are underway to develop a vertical launch site in Sutherland (in the Highlands) and horizontal launch sites at Cornwall and Glasgow Prestwick airports.
Cornwall will have an horizontal launch site
Developing space launch sites in the UK is one of four key priorities towards this goal, identified in the Space Growth Partnership strategy in 2018.
The Space Industry Act 2018 laid foundations for space ports to be regulated in the UK.
Georgina Hutton, researcher specialising in science and the environment at the House of Commons Library, said: “The Government states that commercial launch demand is potentially worth £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.
“The UK’s geography is well suited for launch sites.
“Its northern latitude provides access to specific types of orbits around the earth, such as polar orbits, which are useful for earth observation.
“Also, the neighbouring Atlantic means launches can take place over the ocean and sparsely populated areas, which is important for safety.”
Glasgow Prestwick Airport says its site could be used for passenger spaceflight, and the Act is broad enough to contemplate this possibility.