The Most Promising UK Spaceports and the Benefits They Should Bring

6th May 2021
Prestwick Spaceport

UK’s geographic location is favourable for space launches, which led to discussing the potential of UK spaceports construction. The proposed sites are located in Sutherland, Prestwick, Shetland, Cornwall, and Snowdonia. Compact, well-equipped locations and the use of innovative launch systems will provide access to sun-synchronous and polar orbits along the shortest trajectory. In addition, commercial spaceports are expected to make a significant contribution to the space industry development and the UK’s regions as a whole.

Why several sites at once? Because each focuses on its own tasks. Let’s take a closer look at those.

Sutherland Space Hub, Scotland

The Sutherland Space Hub on the A’Mhoine Peninsula in northern Scotland will cover 4.2 hectares of land. This site is suitable for conveniently launching small satellites into sun-synchronous orbits with lightweight vertical launchers. A barely populated oceanfront landscape with wildlife and marshes ensures safe flights.

Scottish company Orbex Space, which is managed from locations in Germany and Denmark, will launch its Prime rocket from the Sutherland spaceport. The carrier will have up to 150 kg payload capacity to orbit and will collect data to solve the climate change problem and its non-toxic fuel will reduce carbon emissions by 90%.

Prestwick, Scotland

UK spaceport in Prestwick is planned on the basis of the same-name airport near Glasgow, Scotland. Considering airport infrastructure and its long and wide runways, this British spaceport focuses on horizontal launches using the air launch technology. To date, Virgin Orbit is the only private company that uses this technology. Considering that its owner is British businessman Richard Branson, the spaceport has every chance of making Virgin Orbit its main partner.

In the next ten years, Prestwick Spaceport aims to provide the following services:

  • microgravity flights;
  • air launching satellites up to 800 kg;
  • hypersonic flights;
  • passenger orbital and suborbital flights.

Shetland Space Centre, Scotland

Shetland Space Centre is planned to be constructed in Unst, the northernmost Shetland Islands in Scotland. There, SSC will build and operate a satellite launch pad and a ground station. ArianeGroup is involved in the joint project. The site is perfect for launching small rockets into sun-synchronous and polar orbits. The region has no seismic activity, and studies show that launches (around 30 are planned each year) will not affect local nature or air. Shetland Space Centre has a convenient driveway for transporting rockets, fuel, and other equipment, as well as a mission control centre. The military, meteorologists, IT specialists and representatives of other industries, whose efficiency depends on data from space, are interested in this UK spaceport construction.

Cornwall Spaceport, South-West England

Cornwall Spaceport is another horizontal launch site, built on the basis of today’s Newquay airport in the southwest of England. Its proximity to the Goonhilly telecommunications station makes this British spaceport a perfect site for maintaining communication with satellites in space.

Unlike Prestwick, Cornwall immediately enlisted the support of Virgin Orbit, and its infrastructure is already state-of-the-art. Before starting with the commercial launches by the end of 2021, the facility plans to build:

  • rocket and propulsion test facility
  • hangars
  • fuel complex
  • Mission Control Centre
  • Space Gateway Innovation Centre.

To make the project environmentally neutral, Cornwall Council commissioned the University of Exeter to conduct a rigorous independent study. The latter should assess the impact of fuel emissions during lift-off and minimise their impact.

Snowdonia, Wales

Snowdonia spaceport, located in a mountainous area in Wales, is convenient for horizontal rocket launches into polar, sun-synchronous orbits, as well as suborbital flights. This UK spaceport aims to provide air and ground services for testing new technologies, such as:

  • drones
  • regional and urban aircraft
  • zeppelins and air balloons
  • space vehicles
  • airplanes.

An experienced team will offer companies propulsion testing, microgravity testing, as well as a multi-axis simulator, centrifuge, and hyperbaric chamber.

UK Spaceports – A Profitable Venture

Spaceport construction opens up new opportunities for companies, social and scientific organisations. First, British spaceport projects will make space more accessible, which means getting data from space should become easier, faster, and cheaper.

The space sector will develop rapidly, offering new, more affordable, safe, and environmentally friendly rockets, satellites, and other innovative technologies.

Commercial launches will provide an influx to the UK budget and should positively affect regional economies. Besides, UK spaceports will create thousands of new job opportunities and help uncover more human talent.

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