UK Spaceport Projects will help Great Britain compete in the European space race

2nd Jun 2021
UK Spaceport Projects will help Great Britain compete in the European space race

Great Britain is the European leader in small satellite manufacture, but there is not a single UK spaceport to deploy satellites into required orbits. If earlier the British relied on US and European programmes, Brexit emphasised the need to develop its own infrastructure. To keep up with the international space race, the country is actively developing its launch industry – building rockets and getting ready to commission the first UK spaceport in Europe.

Great Britain’s contribution to space exploration

To date, Great Britain is highly successful in the following aerospace activities:

  • Earth observation.
  • Developing ground segments for receiving and processing satellite data.
  • Providing satellite communication services.
  • Developing small satellites, software, and technologies.
  • Manufacturing satellites and their subsystems.

At the same time, Great Britain still does not have its own launch sites to deliver satellites into orbits. The only British rocket to deploy a British satellite was Black Arrow, launched from the Woomera launch site in Australia in 1971. Since then, British satellites have been launched with foreign rockets.

With the foundation of the UK Space Agency in 2010, the situation began to shift. The government has redefined its approach to the aerospace industry and has begun to allocate more funds to support its development – particularly the launch services market.

This policy encouraged the creation of private companies developing UK rockets. The most promising ones are Skyrora and Orbex Space, offering lightweight rockets for deploying payloads up to 350 kg into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. The companies are in the final testing stages and are planning to carry out their first launches in 2022. The advantage of Skyrora XL and Orbex Prime rockets is their relatively low production cost, innovative low-toxic fuels, launch and orbit deployment flexibility. In other words, the companies are doing everything in their power to gain a competitive edge in the launch service market.

However, to provide a full launch service, the country needs its own spaceports, and is now actively working on it. Future UK spaceport locations include Sutherland Space Hub, Shetland Space Centre, Cornwall Spaceport, Glasgow Prestwick, and Llanbedr. All of these facilities may be commissioned in the next two years. Proposed projects include both vertical and horizontal launchpads for lightweight rockets. Despite spaceport potential, some UK spaceport locations face opposition from local community and business, who are concerned about spaceport impact on the environment as well as the regions’ safety.

Europe’s fierce competition with UK spaceport plans

Obviously, the sooner Britain introduces commercial launches, the sooner it will gain investment. This, in turn, will expand the range of Britain’s business activities, giving it a chance to become a leader in the European aerospace market.

Meanwhile, European competitors are also moving forward. France and Germany allocate significantly more funds to support their aerospace industry than Great Britain. Sweden and Norway already have their own test launch sites that can be easily and affordably modified to support orbital launches. Portugal, with its own space agency backed by the ESA, is another competitor.

In light of this, the British government is preparing a number of priority measures, namely:

  • increasing industry funding;
  • introducing space industry development strategy till 2030;
  • commissioning the first UK spaceport in Europe.

Britain now has a 6% share of the global space market. With the UK spaceports launch, the country hopes to increase this figure to 10%. Once UK spaceports are operational, they will strengthen the country’s economy and increase its global influence.

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