To infinity and beyond (the UK): Britain wants its own spaceport

To infinity and beyond (the UK): Britain wants its own spaceport

Summary: The UK wants to 'grab the opportunity' of commercial space flight, and it is looking at aerospace rules and spaceplane certification to get UK space tourism off the ground


The UK is looking at building its own commercial spaceport, to take advantage of the booming UK space industry.

The country is in a good position to seize the initiative on commercial spaceflight via spaceplanes, as it has been active in this sector, science minister David Willetts said on Tuesday. By contrast, the US and Russia appear to be continuing to develop rocket technologies, such as SpaceX and Soyuz.

British technologies such as the Skylon (pictured) "could be game changers" in the space industry, science minister David Willetts has said. Image credit: ESA

However, a review of UK aerospace rules must take place first, Willetts noted.

"Space tourism and commercial space are just beyond the horizon," he said at the Farnborough International Airshow 2012.

"But at present, in my view, Europe is not ready to grab this opportunity — and we must not lose out. We must formulate a regulatory framework that will allow reusable aircraft-type launchers to operate here," he said.

Willetts said the next step is to determine what the UK needs to do to be ready. As part of the plans, the government will look at the certification needed for commercial spacecraft and define the "essential characteristics of an operational spaceport", he said.

The British space industry is bucking economic trends. It was worth £9.1bn to the UK economy in 2010/11, and provided 29,000 jobs, according to a report released by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on Tuesday.

"Space is one of the UK's key high-tech growth industries," Willetts said. "I fully expect this growth trajectory to continue, as UK industry breaks into new markets and seizes more export opportunities."

British technologies

British technologies "could be game changers" in the space industry, according to Willetts. For example, Reactive Technologies is developing the Skylon, a spaceplane with dual jet and rocket boosters. It will be able to fly five times the speed of sound in the Earth's atmosphere, and get to Mach 25 to reach orbit, according to the manufacturer. On Tuesday, the company revealed it had successfully completed engine-cooling tests.

Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, plans to offer suborbital spaceflights from a variety of locations before the end of next year, the company said on Tuesday. It has accepted deposits from 529 future passengers for suborbital flights on its SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. Virgin Galactic announced 'LauncherOne', a satellite delivery rocket, at the same event.

The groundwork for the spaceport is not sufficiently advanced to discuss its possible location, a BIS spokesman told ZDNet.

"These are the first steps in trying to make a UK spaceport a reality," the spokesman said.

BIS will work with the Department for Transport (DfT) on regulatory formulation, spaceplane certification and spaceport characteristics.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Nasa / Space

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Ah, spaceports

    Civilian space travel isn't just about billionaires getting joyrides in 0-G. Passenger vehicles that can access near-earth orbit can make trans-oceanic travel feel like a daily commute...for the billionaires.

    Until that vision becomes a reality for our grandchildren, the more practical and immediate benefits of having a spaceport will be a ready means of deploying satellites, scientific vehicles and transport to space stations.
    Tech watcher
    • Lost in Space:opportunity

      When Britain's history is written 100 years in the future where will these names and
      video archives be:- Baird,Branson,Searle/john.
  • Good idea but can they afford it?

    I doubt it. Not without getting ESA involved.
  • Why the secrecy over location?

    They've been talking about a spaceport at Lossiemouth in Scotland for years.

    Virgin Galactic President, Will Whitehorn, was talking about it in 2008

    It's not a state secret.
  • Wait your turn

    This is a trickle-down concept. Where Trains, Cars and Commercial boat travel were once considered elitist privileges, they are now, and have been for some time, widely used by the mainstream population. As is the case with any technology, the rich or privileged will have the first crack at it, and as it becomes more popular and cheaper to produce, the rest of us will get in line and enjoy also. I'll wait patiently; this is EXCITING!!
    James Keenan