Recently, news hit the press about a possible new launch facility, a spaceport on the territory of the United Kingdom. The article in Daily Mail that I read is however rather vague, and even though it is, in the best of traditions of sensationalist journalism of course, naming it the future "Cape Canaveral ... in Wales", I actually read it more as a possibility of building a rather long runway, than also running a vertical launch platform. Here's a few bullet points out of the mentioned news article:
- Locations are also being considered in the West Country and Scotland
- Would be the launching base for space tourism programmes
- Plans enthusiastically backed by Science Minister David Willetts
- Could become the home of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic programme
Reading a report by Dan Lewis, Chief Executive of the Economic Policy Centre, Chief Executive of Future Energy Strategies and Energy Policy Adviser to the IoD on Space: Britain’s New Infrastructure Frontier (PDF), it merely confirms my initial suspicions that this is not so much about science and exploration, than it is primarily to support space tourism and Virgin Galactic in particular. Most relevant excerpts from the document's executive summary read:
A spaceport would be a key piece of infrastructure for the UK’s space sector, operating as a hub for space tourism, research and development. Space tourists are willing to pay \$200,000 for a mere three hours in space, and will have considerable disposable income that would help the wider local economy. The private sector could help fund the costs of a spaceport.
A spaceport would have several requirements, including a long runway and its own undisturbed high altitude air corridor, which narrow down the location options. Lengthening the runway of an RAF base in Scotland or Northern Ireland would be a possibility, while the South West of England could represent an alternative prospect.
This report is however from May 2012, so the news article is a good year and a half more recent. My question is:
Are there any confirmed plans or negotiations between UK Space Agency and UK's Minister of State for Universities and Science, The Rt. Hon. David Willetts M.P., to build a future vertical launch facility, or is this all about building a long runway suitable for Virgin Galactic's space tourism programme? Would building a launch facility for satellite launch vehicles in UK even make any economic sense, considering its geographic location and population density?