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Potential sites for UK's first spaceport revealed

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July 15, 2014

The UK spaceport would court commercial spaceflight operators, such as Virgin Galactic (Ph...

The UK spaceport would court commercial spaceflight operators, such as Virgin Galactic (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

The commercialization of space travel is picking up pace with companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic leading the way. In a bid to ensure it doesn't miss out on the potential economic benefits of commercial spaceflights, the UK is looking to construct its first spaceport, with a shortlist of eight potential sites announced at the Farnborough Air Show.

The list of nations currently able to independently send crews into space is a short one, consisting of Russia and China. The final Space Shuttle flight in 2001 saw the US cut from the list, but it is set to return with NASA's Orion spacecraft and various spaceplanes being developed by a number of private companies. It is the commercial spaceplanes and satellite launch services that the UK is particularly interested in.

At the Farnborough Air Show's "Space Day," Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill and UK Space Agency Chief Executive Dr David Parker revealed eight airfields identified in a recent Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) report as having the potential to host a spaceport.

To make the cut, the sites needed to meet a variety of criteria. These include having good transport links by land, sea and air, while being secluded from large population centers and busy conventional airspace. Weather was also considered, with strong consistent crosswinds and cloud cover looked on unfavorably. Finally, a large site with the ability to incorporate a runway of over 3,000 m (1.86 mi) was also required.

Although Goodwill said there were other sites in the UK that may fit the bill, the eight identified by the CAA are Cambeltown airport, Kinloss barracks, Llanbedr airport, RAF Leuchars, RAF Lossiemouth, Newquay-Cornwall airport, Glasgow Prestwick airport and Stornoway airport.

With the UK Space Agency calculating that the space sector has been growing at an average rate of 7.2 percent over the last two years and with the aim of the UK capturing 10 percent of the global space market likely to be worth £400 billion (US$686 billion) by 2030, the plan is to have a fully functional spaceport operating by 2018 that would serve as a focal point in Europe for commercial spaceflight companies and satellite launch operators.

"We want the UK to be at the forefront of the next stage of spaceflight," said Goodwill. "That’s why it is important we start laying the foundations today for the infrastructure that we will need tomorrow."

With spaceplanes currently regulated as aircraft, the CAA also reviewed regulations surrounding them. As a result, in the short term they will be treated as experimental aircraft, which will allow flights to operate on the principle of informed consent from the involved parties.

The CAA will now conduct more detailed work looking at potential spaceport sites, while seeking input from international governments and interested commercial operators.

Source: Ministry of Defence

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
6 Comments

If this is going to make any sense, they need to quickly decide on a site and do their best to attract a private enterprise to develop an onsite rocket test and development facility to use it. Even then, the climate will not be very attractive, so I imagine there will be the usual shenanigans around tax incentives to attract them, so the benefit to the U.K. will hardly be worth worrying about.

Mel Tisdale
16th July, 2014 @ 06:33 am PDT

I thought one of the requirements for the spaceport was being near the equator, so that you gain the rotational advantage of the Earth. Presumably all the space vehicles will be aeroplane types, and not rockets.

windykites1
16th July, 2014 @ 07:09 am PDT

Why the airspace would have to be different of the airliners? These are just faster airplanes with a higher altitude capability. By restraining usage in the same airports of airliners you are slowing down progress... The airspace / airports should be the same as of regular airplanes - just respect the runway capabilities etc...

migkid1
16th July, 2014 @ 09:53 am PDT

The UK is not going to build a spaceport, and if they do, it will fail.

The UK's geographic disadvantages are almost certainly show-stopping, and if ignored, they will pay in the form of subsidies and lax safety standards (as the article indicated they already have):

1) Europe is downrange = guess who gets to pay huge insurance costs as the English learn rocketry?

2) Or they can launch entirely in the WRONG direction (against the rotation of the Earth, out over the Atlantic), and incur a constant 50% fuel penalty.

3) Or they compromise and launch directly north or south, which creates a (more) polar orbit. Though such orbits have their uses, they are not as common, or as useful, and so fuel is often required to change it.

The UK can't fix that tradeoff - either take your chances and launch over population centers (Europe, and they STILL have a very northern orbit that most people will have to spend very expensive fuel to alter once there) or launch at a higher and therefore even more expensive angle.

Even IF they try to 'compromise' by risking the crashes, they will end up paying higher insurance rates anyway for it, which is still a competitive disadvantage.

I predict this is pure propaganda BS, and will completely evaporate in less than a year. It looks to me like someone is merely imagining that the UK has a shot at it's former glory.

Tommy Maq
17th July, 2014 @ 12:10 am PDT

Six of the eight potential sites are in Scotland. If the UK Space Agency spends hundreds of millions building a spaceport at one of these, will they consider that money to be well-spent if the Scots vote for independence in two months' time and the spaceport ends up outside the UK?!

Steve Jones
17th July, 2014 @ 07:09 am PDT

For suborbital flights location does not matter enough to worry about.

Slowburn
20th July, 2014 @ 02:37 pm PDT
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