Bristol Spaceplanes

Space-plane developer expresses frustration at lack of UK investment

An engineer working within the space plane industry told MPs that a lack of support from major players in the aviation industry might be slowing down the development of the new disruptive space technology.

David Ashford, managing director of Bristol Spaceplanes, thinks space planes are an incredibly valuable invention, which are likely to have as much impact in the future as the steam locomotive did in the 19th century. 

However, Ashford feels a lack in industry support in Britain is slowing down this process, as major aviation companies are unwilling to back the new technology.

“The main risk is just lack of investment capital,” he said. Space planes are going to revolutionise space flight eventually and if the UK wants to develop the world's first space plane, which it could do, you need the money, Ashford told the Science and Technology Select Committee.

Space planes are a new type of space vehicle that take off and land in a similar way to aircraft and can hence be re-used.

Ashford said: “It's going to revolutionise space flight like the steam locomotive revolutionised land transport. It’s that level of transformation.

For Ashford, the history of space planes dates back to the 1960s, when aviation companies were looking into the technology as the “obvious next step” after converting ballistic missiles into launch vehicles. 

Yet Ashford said the race to the moon forced companies to dismantle their space plane projects and focus on what was seen as the space-related priority at the time.

Now, the engineer believes space planes have a solid chance to take off, but he is frustrated at the poor support they are receiving from big players within the aerospace industry.

“We're trying to team up with major players, and we’re having great trouble engaging in dialogue with them,” said Ashford. “It's sort of, ‘space planes arent in our strategic plan, dear boy, and thats meant to close the conversation down. Then I say no, its not in your strategic plan because it's a disruptive technology, but the first one of you guys that puts it there hits the jackpot, and theres a very long pause.”

According to the engineer, this lack of support is likely to interfere with the Government’s plans for a UK spaceport.

In fact, not all industry exponents believe that a British spaceport will be ready by 2020.

Richard Peckham, business development director at Airbus Group, said: “I would certainly say it’s close to impossible. I think it could be not too far away from 2020, but 2020’s going to be pretty nigh impossible.”

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