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

   enter image description here

   Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo carried by WhiteKnightTwo on landing approach at Mojave Air and Space Port, CA (Source: SSM)

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?


2 Answers 2


Perhaps. There seems to be persistent interest, see NSTP2, which is an invitation from the UK Space Agency for "proposals for industrial research projects that will contribute to the introduction of sub-orbital flight and satellite launch operations in the UK".

Proposals have to address:

  • determine how sub-orbital or small satellite launch vehicles primarily designed for operation outside of the UK can be adapted to operate on a commercial basis in the UK, and/or;

  • develop capabilities in the UK that will increase the UK’s ability to operate sub-orbital or small satellite launch services, and/or;

  • identify the technology developments that will be needed and how UK companies can play a significant role in the supply chain for future sub-orbital and small satellite launch systems

So who knows where it will lead, one can't predict the future.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, who knows, and I didn't ask to predict the future, just if there's a chance (i.e. if it's even being considered). ;) Did you or someone you know perchance attend yesterday's (Feb. 3, 2016) Spaceport UK Conference? $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Feb 4, 2016 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ My gut feeling is that "small satellite launch" would probably mean air-launch, but who knows... $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Feb 4, 2016 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Tildalwave I'd be interested to get hold of electronic presentations from the conference if they are made available. $\endgroup$
    – Puffin
    Feb 5, 2016 at 0:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TildalWave Presentations here: aerosociety.com/About-Us/specgroups/space/Past-Events/2016 $\endgroup$
    – Puffin
    Feb 21, 2016 at 21:52

Although not orbital, which was the explicit question asked, a rocket has been launched from the UK to beyond the atmosphere in October 2015.

It is reported by the BBC today.

BBC news image from Qinetic

The BBC article also writes about the sites for planned spaceports, including an article about a proposed vertical rocket launch site in Sutherland.

A lot of these proposals are still vapourware.

I presume this flurry of BBC articles result from journalists attending the Spaceport UK conference.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, all of a sudden its news! But incomplete research on the part of the journalist. A couple of hundred sounding rockets have been launched from South Uist (1100-170km) and a smaller number from Aberporth ( mostly lower altitude but a couple to 100km) in the 1960's and 70s. There was less air traffic around then. astronautix.com/sites/souhuist.htm and www.astronautix.com/sites/abeporth.htm $\endgroup$
    – Puffin
    Feb 5, 2016 at 0:45

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