UK wants rocket launch site

The British government is backing plans to create the UK’s first – modern – rocket launching site. A Spaceflight Bill is likely to be presented to parliament this month, and grants could be available to successful entrepreneurs and consortia to help get their concepts off the ground.

Science Minister Jo Johnson said the commercial spaceflight market could be worth an estimated £25 billion (€25bn) over the next 20 years. “Spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation,” he said. “It provides opportunities to expand into new markets, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting local economies across the country. That is why it is one of the key pillars of our Industrial Strategy. “We want to see the UK space sector flourish, that is why we are laying the groundwork needed for business to be able to access this lucrative global market.”

There are a number of proposals already with plans to develop airfields, generally in remote locations, but the government also specifically mentions space tourism and even talks about airborne rocket launching as an option for smaller satellites.

Consortia will have to present their ideas which must contain a practical launch site and its support infrastructure. Grants are available of up to £10 million for relevant ideas.

One potential bidder is Stuart McIntyre from Orbital Access, based at Scotland’s Prestwick Airport, and which is developing a satellite launch system based on a standard wide-body jet. “We would fly a carrier aircraft with a launcher out over the ocean to conduct the launch operation,” he told BBC News.

The UK government has already identified potentially suitable sites in conjunction with the UK Space Agency. The Agency is collecting proposals and has set April 15th as the closing date for applications. Organisations expected to bid for a share of the funding are likely to be joint enterprises of launch vehicle operators and potential launch sites. The funding must be used to develop spaceflight capabilities, such as building spaceport infrastructure or adapting launch vehicle technology for use in the UK. The aim is to establish a commercial spaceflight market to capture a share of the emerging global market from 2020.

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