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‘Great British Space Age’ will see rocket launches in three years, says government

11:46 pm, 15th July 2018

A traditional “vertical” rocket launch pad will be built in Sutherland, on the north coast of Scotland, to put small satellites into orbit.

New “horizontal” launch sites – where runways are used by space planes carrying satellites and tourists – are also planned in Cornwall, Glasgow and North Wales.

The spaceports could be worth £3.8bn to the UK economy over the next decade, according to the UK Space Agency.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “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.

“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.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is expected to be given £2.5m from the UK government to develop the spaceport in Sutherland.

The site on the A’Mhoine peninsula, between Tongue and Durness, is believed to be the best place in the UK for vertical rocket launches.

It is expected to create hundreds of jobs.

A further £2m funding will boost development of vertical spaceports across Britain, subject to a successful business case, at Newquay airport, Glasgow Prestwick airport and at a site in Snowdonia.

In a partnership due to be signed at the Farnborough International Airshow Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is seeking to begin launches from Newquay by 2021, using a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called “Cosmic Girl”.

Cosmic Girl will carry a LauncherOne rocket under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release the rocket at around 35,000 feet for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth orbit.

Low cost access to space is important for the UK’s thriving space sector, which builds more small satellites than any other country. Glasgow builds more than any other city in Europe.

But companies currently have to transport their hardware to countries such as the US, Russia or India to be launched.

Earlier this year Sky News was given rare access to Spire Global, a Glasgow-based company that makes satellites the size of a loaf of bread.

Peter Platzer, Spire’s CEO said: “A spaceport in Scotland and the UK is fantastic news!

“Launch continues to be the most unpredictable part of the overall supply chain, with delays, often for months and sometimes years, being the norm.

“In Spire, Scotland already sports Europe’s most advanced and prolific satellite manufacturing capability, and with a space port right next door, enabling clockwork-like launches, we can finally get our space sector supply chain to be truly integrated.”