The next giant leap: The UK launches its space ambitions

The UK is looking to capitalise on its worldleading expertise in aerospace with the development of vertical and horizontal spaceports, taking one giant leap into next phase of space travel. 

The UK Space Agency selected Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland as the first vertical launch site. 

An initial £2.5 million will go to Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop the vertical launch site in Sutherland, which will use a combination of proven and innovative rocket technologies to pave the way for a world-leading spaceflight market. 

However, new horizontal launch sites have significant potential in a future UK spaceflight market, which it is anticipated could attract companies from all over the world to invest in Britain.  

These horizontal launch sites will host runways that will support space planes capable of carrying satellites and tourists and will be located in Cornwall, Glasgow and North Wales. The sites will be boosted by a new £2 million horizontal spaceport development fund to grow their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions. 

The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain also put the UK in a strong position to further develop horizontal launch sites. The Government’s decision to make available a £2 million strategic development fund, should also help accelerate this early-stage market further. 

It is envisaged that small-satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from the UK will support organisations across the country to remain at the forefront of commercial space services, driving new highly skilled jobs and boost local economies – not only in the communities around spaceport sites, but in the UK’s space sector as a whole. 

Business Secretary Greg Clark explained: “As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy. The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites. 

“This will build on our global reputation for manufacturing small satellites and help the whole country capitalise on the huge potential of the commercial space age.” 

The first launch at Malness spaceport is set to take place in 2023, with a team led by Lockheed Martin set to deliver six cubesats tasked with assisting weather monitoring projects. 

The move is a clear endorsement of commercial spaceflight, said to be worth £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the coming decade, with the potential to usher in a new era of space travel. However, the possibilities for military use have stirred the interest of the defence industry.  

Speaking at a briefing at this year’s Farnborough Airshow, Air Vice-Marshal Simon Rochelle, Chief of Staff for Capability and Force Development with the Royal Air Force spoke of his hopes that responsive military launches would soon be a possibility. 

Although the process is still early in its development, the ability to deliver emergency supplies via a small satellite and restock them within 72 hours would be of significant strategic value. 

Given the collaborative nature of manufacturing and procuring within the defence industry, there also exists the further potential to open up the spaceport to the UK’s military allies. 

Rochelle explains: “We go and buy airplanes together; we can buy AWACS together; think of federated capability; think of how partners work symbiotically with each other. 

“The more we – Five-Eyes and allies – can respond effectively, or even offer deterrence, dissuasion, we may actually control that space domain rather than being threatened or outmanoeuvred in the space domain.”

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