There are some fairly exciting developments happening within the new UK Space Industry taking us closer to the actual commercial launch of rockets from UK soil for the first time in history.
The UK had a bit of a foray into this back in the 1960s, resulting in some successful launches from Australia, the last of which was the Black Arrow rocket in 1971 which sent the Prospero satellite into orbit. But, to date, nothing has been launched from UK mainland or our many islands that are all very well positioned to get a satellite into orbit.
Recent developments have seen progress from a number of sites across the country, with a location in Sutherland, Scotland being identified for a vertical launch pad as well as another location in Shetland.
However, a surprising entry into the mix has been an airport in Cornwall that secured the backing of Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbital, who intend to launch rockets horizontally from converted Boeing 747s. The billionaire businessman has already secured some funding for his project, but locals are now starting to raise some serious concerns.
The main difference between the Scottish locations and the site in Cornwall, is that both Scottish sites will launch rockets vertically, whilst the Cornwall site will see the aeroplanes launch horizontally with rockets attached to their underside. The aircraft will embark on a journey to a final destination where it will eventually release the rockets that will then activate their engines to take them into orbit.
Some of the concerns that have been raised amongst residents living near to the airfield is that essentially, the aircraft will pass over land with potentially explosive projectiles attached which will be subject to vibration and turbulence and potentially pose a higher risk than a traditional vertical launch. It is not known whether the aircraft will fly over residential areas, but it is highly likely, so any mechanical failure could have very serious consequences.
Further concerns have been raised in light of the fatal accidents resulting from Virgin Galactic’s previous launches in California, USA, where an investigation cited human error and a design flaw as a potential factor in the break up of an aircraft resulting in the death of the co-pilot. This poor safety record has unfortunately not helped with the concerns of the local population.
Some locals have recently announced plans to hold back council tax payments in protest to the proposed horizontal launch activities.
The race to be first to launch continues and it is looking more and more likely that Cornwall will continue to be hampered by the safety concerns, making the Scottish launch pads most likely to take the lead.
The Cornwall Green Party were amongst those that raised concerns in light of recent climate issues…