Britain backs Scottish spaceport plan with £30 million in grants

Horizontal launches use conventional aeroplanes to carry the rocket part-way to its destination, and so do not have to be sited in remote locations.

It is envisaged the Orbex rockets will launch satellites to altitudes of up to 1,250km from a proposed spaceport in Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland, a project which was also announced today after securing £2.5m government funding from the UK Space Agency.

After years of study and consideration, the British government announced July 15 that it will start development of a new spaceport in northern Scotland, while an English airport signed a deal that could also lead to launches from its facility. Together with partners such as the American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which will pocket £23.5m, the HIE will hope to be launching satellites into orbit as soon as the early 2020s. The first launch is planned to commence in 2020.

"We want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites", said Greg Clark, the UK's Business Secretary. Horizontal launch sites at Newquay airport, Glasgow Prestwick airport and Snowdonia will get funding if they make a case for the economic benefits. The first rocket launched in Sutherland will release a Small Launch Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle (SL-OMV), built specifically by Moog in the United Kingdom in order to carry up to six of Lockheed's CubeSats.

Speaking from the Farnborough Airshow on Monday, Mr Strang said the Shetland Space Centre continued to pursue a launch licence for Unst, backed by industry heavyweights and the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

With Lockheed Martin getting involved in United Kingdom space launch operations, officials say the USA and United Kingdom governments will enter negotiations for a technology safeguards agreement, potentially enabling sensitive us space technologies to be used in the UK.

Artist's impression of an Orbex rocket launch | Credit Orbex
Artist's impression of an Orbex rocket launch | Credit Orbex

A British version of this rocket is to be developed and would have a propulsion unit and satellite dispenser built at Ampthill in Bedfordshire, Harwell in Oxfordshire, and in Reading, Berkshire.

"The announcement of a strategic partnership between Virgin Orbit and Cornwall Spaceport is great news for the region and the U.K.'s ambitions for regular, reliable and responsible access to space", said U.K. Science Minister Sam Gyimah in a statement from Spaceport Cornwall.

British and USA governmental agencies have been working on a Technology Safeguards Agreement that would establish a legal and technical framework for US space launch vehicles to operate from launch sites in Britain.

"This spaceport grant will help to kick-start an exciting new era for the United Kingdom space industry, and this is only the beginning of our LaunchUK campaign".

"The significant investment, supported by HIE, and an estimated 400 jobs is a welcome boost to the local community and wider Scottish space sector which we are committed to see grow".

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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