Britain is to build the first spaceport outside of America by the year 2018, the government has announced. The facility will eventually enable tourists to take commercial flights to Australia in just two hours, but before that it will be used to launch British satellites.
The government announced at Farnborough International Airshow that it has narrowed down the shortlist of sites to six in Scotland, one in Cornwall and one in Wales. Business Secretary Vince Cable said that the spaceport would boost the British economy and help the growing space industry.
Space already makes the UK economy £11bn with everything from car navigation systems, to Sky TV to Satellite broadband for rural areas. Mr Cable said that this latest proposal will make Britain a ‘place for space’.
The spaceport is likely to become the hub for Virgin Galactic, the project by Richard Branson to create a viable space tourism industry. It will also be capable of launching supersonic space jets, such as Skylon, the British backed project. Space jets are widely expected to revolutionise aviation over the next century.
At present, most British companies wanting to launch a spacecraft use the European Space Agency (ESA) site in French Guiana, South America. This adds significant costs to the project, as people and components have to be sent thousands of miles to the launch site.
Also, having a launch site in South America makes it much harder for the space tourism industry, and the site is pointless for anyone who would want to board a space jet as they would probably get to their destination more quickly by flying there directly on a conventional flight.
David Morris MP, Vice Chairman of the Parliamentary Space Committee, welcomed the development: “Space is becoming a major employer in the UK, and its a real headache to have to transport expensive equipment like satellites overseas because there are no launchpads in Britain. This new facility will create the launch facilities needed for both satellites and future developments in space tourism.
“We must not end up in the situation we did with airports: for decades the government kept ownership of them. We should lead the way with the investment but also have a plan to privatise them as soon as possible.”
The Civil Aviation Authority will now look at various options to ensure the safety of future space tourists.