Reaction Engines' space plane Skylon has become one of the symbols of the UK's space achievements

Spaceport by 2018 part of UK space action plan

Building a spaceport in the UK is one of the ideas introduced as part of an action plan designed to improve Britain’s position in the global space race.

The Space Growth Action Plan for a period between 2014 and 2030, introduced today by Andy Green, chair of the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy steering board, during an event in Westminster, has set an ambitious goal for the UK space sector to reach a 10 per cent share of global space business worth some £400bn by 2030.

Introducing a set of recommendations, Green stressed he is convinced UK space sector is on track to achieve the goal, which will help create 100,000 new jobs. The UK space industry currently holds nearly 7 per cent of the global space business and has been growing annually by 7.5 per cent since 2008.

Creating favourable conditions to "make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a space business" was one of the key ideas introduced by Green. “We have to think how to make Britain the next California, the next Texas or Luxembourg to persuade entrepreneurs that this is the right place to be,” Green said.

Apart from developing space applications designed to improve everyday life in various areas including better road traffic, maritime and air-traffic management, smart cities, satellite broadband or climate change monitoring, the UK should not shy away from getting involved in the burgeoning commercial space flight sector, the plan suggests.

“Space planes could reduce the price of space travel by up to 80 per cent,” Green said, explaining that with a British company Virgin Galactic planning to take first commercial space tourists for sub-orbital flights in 2014 from a base in the USA, it is about time the UK started seriously considering building its own spaceport. Green said a 2018 launch of the facility should be feasible.

Elaborating on the spaceport idea, Minister for Universities and Science David Willets said despite this sub-orbital planes will probably not be taking off from London’s Heathrow airport, locating such a facility somewhere in Scotland is plausible. Although, he said, operating nearer to the centre would offer additional benefits.

Other recommendations have been introduced as part of the action plan – focusing on key market areas, capable of delivering innovative space applications, growing export opportunities, and leveraging the UK’s engagement in the European Space Agency (ESA).

As Green said, creating a nurturing environment for SMEs across the country to grow their space business is also crucial to help turn the UK into a real space super-power.  

Willets, voicing his support for the plan said he is confident the 10 per cent market share target by 2030 or even earlier is achievable. “My benchmark is to ensure the UK space sector is growing faster than the Chinese economy,” Willetts said.

According to the speakers, the biggest challenge the UK space sector has to overcome is persuading key players in other sectors about the benefits they can get from space research, technology and related applications.

Clear government support, it was suggested, is crucial to attract further private investment.

Green, who was also responsible for developing the 2010 Space Innovation and Growth Strategy, said the biggest success so far has been that the government and industry have managed to implement most of its recommendations – an undertaking that helped turn UK space industry from a niche field into a high-technology, mainstream, industrial and science sector.

Opening of ESA's European Centre for Space Applications in Harwell earlier this year and British astronaut Tim Peake being scheduled for a mission to the International Space Station in 2015 have ben mentioned among the major successes, capable of further fostering the development of UK's space sector and inspiring coming generations to get involved.

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