The UK Wants To Start Launching Rockets In The 2020s

Artist's impression of a rocket launch from the pad in Scotland. Orbex

Exciting news people of Britain, as it’s been announced that the UK will be getting its very own launch pad, set to open in the early 2020s.

The announcement was made yesterday by the UK Space Agency, who said the spaceport would be located in Sutherland – a remote peninsula on Scotland’s north coast. Initial funding of $3.3 million has been given to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop the site.

“This spaceport grant will help kick-start an exciting new era for the UK space industry,” Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said in a statement. “We are committed to supporting a commercial market for access to space in the UK, and we will continue to engage with any company who seeks to operate here.”

The idea is that this launch pad in Scotland will fill a niche in the launch market, specifically targeting small launches into polar or sun-synchronous orbits. You won’t be seeing things like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch from here – but you will see smaller rockets like the Electron operated by Rocket Lab in New Zealand.

A launch pad has been considered in the UK for quite some time, with a number of candidates being drawn up in 2014. But now it looks like Scotland has emerged as the frontrunner, putting the small county of Sutherland with a population of about 12,000 well and truly on the map.

This is what the launch pad will look like. Perfect Circle PV

From this launch site, rockets will fly north between Iceland and the Faroe Islands over unpopulated ocean. There are more than 60 small launch vehicles being developed around the world, according to BBC News, which could find a home at this launch site. One of these belongs to UK-based company Orbex, which has secured about $40 million in funding to develop its rocket, while US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is also investing in the Sutherland site.

And it’s not just vertical rockets the UK might be getting. The government also revealed it would provide about $3 million of funding to look into building horizontal launch sites elsewhere, such as Cornwall on the southwestern tip of the UK. Potential launches from these sites include Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit.

It’s hoped that these initiatives will help the UK grab a potential $5 billion in revenue from launches over the next decade, and put the UK firmly in place for a new era of low-cost spaceflight, especially among fears of the impact Brexit could have on the aerospace industry. While there are still some hurdles to overcome, the future certainly looks promising.

“As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites,” Business Secretary Greg Clark said in the statement.

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