UK spaceports risk a failure to launch

31 May 2018
UK spaceport and spaceplane developers await the outcome of a GBP50 million government grant competition (pictured is the spaceplane concept from Orbital Access). Source: Orbital Access

An important UK government grant announcement is months overdue and the pace of regulatory development hinges partly on the outcome of Brexit negotiations

On 11 May, a space industry report calling for satellite launches from UK spaceports to be a priority was welcomed by the government, which wants services to begin in 2020. However, consultation with industry on the necessary regulations only starts in 2019, months after the Space Industry Act was passed in March 2018; and 13 months after bids were submitted, the winning spaceport and launch provider teams in the GBP50 million (USD66.6 million) government grant competition have still not been selected.

“We are planning to consult on the detailed [spaceport and launch] regulations in 2019,” UK Space Agency (UKSA) Satellite Launch Programme Director Mike Taylor told Jane’s . The next stages are drawing up secondary legislation, which will allow government agencies to set regulations for spaceports and small satellite launches from UK soil. In March, UKSA said that it was working on secondary legislation with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

While the regulatory process continues, the government welcomed the Prosperity from space: A partnership strategy for the UK report from the Space Growth Partnership. The report recommends that the value of spaceports must be maximised by exploiting the potential of the GBP10 million low-cost launch market. It adds that the UK should be the “home for low-cost launch services and developing platform technologies to promote even lower-cost access to space”.

In March 2015, the UK government announced a shortlist of eligible spaceport sites: Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick, and Stornoway in Scotland; Newquay in England; and Llanbedr in Wales. The Royal Air Force base at Leuchars, Scotland, was confirmed at the time as a potential temporary facility. Fife Council had made the case for a Leuchars spaceport, but it told Jane’s that no work has been done since.

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