UK Manned Space Mission: A pipe dream or potential reality?

21st Feb 2024
UK Manned Space Mission: A pipe dream or potential reality?

There has been a lot of speculation and talk about manned space missions taking off from UK soil, particularly since the country first announced its plans to create a new space industry. But, how likely is it that a UK manned space mission will send astronauts into space from its own turf?

When we will see the first UK manned space mission?

The short answer to that question is “Not anytime soon”. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, because more likely than not it will happen. It would be the logical next step in the UK’s space ambitions once they have established their satellite launch infrastructure.

As things stand the UK are working hard towards creating their new satellite launch network, mostly operated by private companies, with support from the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

The creation of the launch facilities that will take satellites into orbit is in itself a huge undertaking. Launch pads need to be built and in some cases roads and transportation updates are needed in order to get all the hardware for that in place and to allow the rockets and fuel etc. to reach those facilities. This same infrastructure isn’t necessarily suitable for launch vehicles taking humans into space. In most cases there will be a potential need for larger launch pads and other structural requirements. And of course, there may also be a need for new legislation as well as more complex insurance services on offer to the launch companies.

So, when will it happen?

The reality is that the UK is still behind with its satellite launch plans. Many companies are expected to launch in 2023 or 2024. But, no launches took part in 2023 other than the failed Virgin Orbit launch. And 2024, whilst launches are possible, isn’t looking so promising. 

It’s likely that we are still a couple of years away from the start of regular rocket launches from UK soil. And then some more years for the infrastructure to be bedded in and any identified gaps to be filled. 

So, only once the satellite launch facilities are fully up and running and operating a frequent launch schedule, will anybody really be ready to look at manned space missions. A more likely scenario would be for human spaceflight to take place sometime close to 2030.

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