UK Spaceport Construction is Supported by the Government and MoD

13th Apr 2021
Spaceport Cornwall

The government is actively involved in the construction of UK spaceports. Even though the UK has strong space potential and produces more satellites than any other country in Europe, it still has to launch its spacecraft from foreign spaceports. Commissioning its own launch sites could be beneficial both for the Ministry of Defence and private commercial companies. When and where are the new spaceports to be built?

UK Spaceport Construction Progress So Far

To date, seven UK spaceport projects are pending approval. Five of those are located in Scotland as its northernmost location is perfect for reaching sun-synchronous and polar orbits. Two more spaceport projects are due to take place in England and Wales. 

Most of the UK spaceport projects currently pending approval are traditional, vertical launch sites. However, two more facilities – Spaceport Cornwall and Glasgow Prestwick Airport – are horizontal launch sites. The latter is owned by the Scottish government and managed by Prestwick Aerospace.

Cornwall Spaceport is proposed on the basis of Newquay airport. The latter has the longest runway in the UK, which gives the project a competitive edge. Another development that inspires hope in Spaceport Cornwall is strong support from Virgin Orbit, an aerospace company owned by British billionaire, Richard Branson. 

The MoD has already had three meetings with Cornwall Spaceport – the only facility located in England. So, it looks like the Cornwall spaceport project has high commissioning odds. Besides, Virgin Orbit has support from the Cornwall Council – in 2019, the company received £306,480 from the UK government. 

Virgin Orbit has already tested its launch technology from a launch site in California. Their modified Boeing 747 plane, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, delivered five satellites into requested orbits.

Virgin hopes to become the main resident of Spaceport Cornwall, and given the government’s and MoD’s investment in this UK spaceport project, such a partnership looks quite likely. However, one should not discard other applicants for the title of the first UK spaceport. Sutherland and Shetland – both vertical launch sites in Scotland – also have shown to have high potential.

Besides, like many other projects proposed in the UK, Cornwall spaceport faces opposition from local activists. The environmentalists are concerned about local wildlife and carbon emissions from Cornwall Spaceport. 

Very similar concerns have been voiced about other UK spaceport projects, mostly located in Scotland. None of the facilities have a construction permit so far, but considering the government’s investment in the new space initiative, it looks like the first UK spaceport will be commissioned in the very near future. 

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