The Exciting UK Spaceports Competition – Which One Is Winning?

16th Aug 2021
The Exciting UK Spaceports Competition – Which One Is Winning?

The growing market of small satellites puts a high demand on launching services by the UK spaceports. Nowadays, at least three satellites launches are done monthly by Elon Musk alone. The overall number of launched satellites in 2020 exceeded 1000 units. Cape Canaveral (USA), The Guiana Space Centre near Kourou in French Guiana, Rocket Lab LC-1 on Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand, spaceports in China and Russia remain the main launch pads so far. However, the situation will change drastically next year, should the first British spaceport come into operation. The functional British spaceport should satisfy the country’s aim to lead the new space race in Europe.

What Makes UK Spaceports Perfect for Launching Small Satellites?

The UK has all that is necessary to launch small satellites to polar and geosynchronous orbits: the geographical location of the islands, low density of population, plenty of heights, and developed industrial and airport infrastructure. Furthermore, the UK is a leader among the European countries when it comes to small satellite production. Glasgow alone outstrips the whole European production in this sector.

Considering all the contributing factors and the UK’s growing ambitions in the space sector, the British government, in cooperation with the UKSA, has adopted a program for the local spaceports’ development. According to this, 8 potential launch pads were chosen:

  1. Spaceport Cornwall, Newquay
  2. SaxaVord Spaceport, Unst, Scotland
  3. Space Hub Sutherland, Mhòine, Scotland
  4. Spaceport Snowdonia, Llanbedr, Wales
  5. Prestwick Spaceport, South Ayrshire, Scotland
  6. Spaceport 1, Scolpaig, North Uist, Scotland
  7. Spaceport Machrihanish, Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland

So, which British spaceport is likely to be The First, and what are the main difficulties future spaceports face?

Local Communities and Anders Holch Povlsen vs. Space Hub Sutherland

Space Hub Sutherland UK spaceport was the primary stake at first. In August 2020, the facility for was granted Planning permission and signed a deal to launch the Prime rocket of Orbex Space company. However, the project has met some objections; the local community doubted such an activity would appear safe for the regions’ ecology.

Later, a Danish businessman, Anders Holch Povlsen, joined the argument and filed a lawsuit to shut down the project. The confrontation is still ongoing, and the fate of the future spaceport is resting with the courts. The Lockheed Martin Corporation also hinders the prospective of Space Hub Sutherland. The company had signed a cooperation agreement with the future spaceport but later changed its course to work with Shetland Space Centre in order not to share the same launch pad with Orbex. This decision lowered the Space Hub Sutherland’ chances in the UK spaceports competition.

Historic Environment Scotland vs. SaxaVord Spaceport

The second highest priority was assigned to Shetland Space Centre (renamed to SaxaVord Spaceport in 2021). The site was designed for vertical suborbital and orbital launches of rockets able to carry payloads of up to 1000 kg. The facility is located in one of the northernmost Scottish islands. Its remote location and significant distance from populated areas make the place perfect for launches. There is a problem, nevertheless. Skaw radar station, the location of which is planned to be the future spaceport’s territory, is considered a monument of national significance. As Historic Environment Scotland (a public body aimed to protect Scotland’s historic environment) states, the building of the spaceport will hinder the cultural significance of Skaw station and the whole region. While SaxaVord’s managers are fighting for permission, the project is in limbo.

Launching Plans Are to Become a Reality in the UK

While some of the future UK spaceports compete for their place in the sun, plans to open horizontal launch pads in Cornwall and Prestwick seem to be more feasible. The first has received approval from British billionaire Richard Branson to launch one of the Virgin Orbit’s carriers. In July 2021, the site gained £2 million for the construction of the Cornwall aerospace centre that will be responsible for integrating satellites into rockets.

Prestwick Spaceport is being built on the basis of the Glasgow Prestwick Airport. It already has all the needed infrastructure, and it obtained £80 million investment from Ayrshire Growth Deal. The sum tells a lot about the great potential of the project. The spaceport will create over 4000 new jobs, stimulating youth to choose careers in STEM. 2035 is likely to see the place as an international hub to launch suborbital flights.

Other Contestants in the UK Spaceports Competition

Other contestants are not in the limelight so far. Though their locations are quite beneficial as well, their potential is questionable; thus, their investment attractiveness is lower. Nevertheless, it’s still hard to predict which of the UK spaceports will win the race.

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