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By Rob Coppinger, Space.com Contributor | August 06, 2014 12:58pm ET

The U.K. government is laying the groundwork for its first spaceport in anticipation of a growing space tourism demand and a growing space plane industry by 2030, according to a new timetable. Government officials also envision orbital launches from that country within the next 15 years.

According to the new timetable, unveiled at the Farnborough International Airshow last month, the U.K. is planning to build $85.5 million spaceport (50 million British pounds) and anticipates a space tourism market worth $65 million each year, as well as a space plane industry worth $33.9 billion (20 billion pounds) by 2030.

The timetable lays out a number of other specific dates: The spaceport could be operational from 2016; the first suborbital flight would occur in 2018; the first sub-orbital space plane satellite launch from the spaceport would take place in 2020; rocket engine testing for the orbital space plane would occur in 2026, and that space plane would be operational four years later. [Evolution of the Space Plane (Infographic)]

The rocket-engine testing refers to hybrid engines, which are used by the Skylon space plane, manufactured by U.K. company Reaction Engines.

A British spaceport
U.K. Space Agency Director General David Parker published the timetable at the Farnborough International Airshow's Space Day Conference on July 15. He also signed a memorandum of cooperation for space plane operations with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation George Nield, and announced that Lockheed Martin will open a space technology office in the English town of Harwell in Oxfordshire.

Choosing a spaceport site

From now until October this year, the U.K. Space Agency is undertaking a public consultation about possible spaceport sites. Selection of a site could take place before the end of 2016. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has identified eight sites across the United Kingdom's nations of England, Scotland and Wales after 18 months of work. Six of the sites are in Scotland, one is in Wales, and the one site in England is on the country's southern coast, at Newquay Cornwall Airport. Newquay is known in the United Kingdom for its surfing.

Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer and vice president of business development of Mojave, California-based space plane developer XCOR Aerospace, spoke to Space.com at the Airshow about his company's interest in one proposed site, Newquay. "Newquay is sort of interesting. It points right out to the water. You're not flying over anything under rocket power, which is nice." U.K. government officials interviewed Nelson and other XCOR staff in June and early July 2013 at Mojave, spending two to three days there, Nelson said. The officials also spoke to Virgin Galactic and Stu Witt, manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port. [See an animation of the Lynx in flight]

Previously, potential users, such as Virgin Galactic, have favored Lossiemouth, in Scotland. A 2009 report into spaceport candidate locations for the U.K. Space Agency's predecessor, the British National Space Centre (BNSC), found Lossiemouth to be the best site. Located in northern Scotland, Lossiemouth is on the coast of the North Sea and has a Royal Air Force base with a runway suitable for the types of launch systems used by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. That company had already identified Lossiemouth as a possible U.K. spaceport; in 2009, then Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn, who was born in Scotland, spoke of his hope for a spaceport in the location. The 2009 report did not set a date for constructing such a facility.

A September referendum on whether Scotland will remain a part of the United Kingdom could complicate that choice for a 2018 spaceport, however. If the yes vote in the referendum wins, Scotland could be an independent country by 2018. A poll last week by ICM Research found that 34 percent of Scottish voters would vote yes for independence, 45 percent would vote no and the remainder don't know.

The $85.5 million spaceport price tag comes from a science report published in April by the U.K. Space Agency's parent body, the Government’s Department for Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS). Parker told Space.com that the cost estimate for the spaceport was an informed guess. The BIS report also proposed a national space propulsion facility that would cost about $10 million, or 6 million British pounds.

The eight spaceport sites and the detailed timetable published at the Farnborough Space Day Conference come from the CAA's report, "U.K. Government Review of Commercial Space Plane Certification and Operations," released this month. The report’s timetable also envisages a number of other goals: wet lease agreements by 2016 under common FAA and CAA rules, pan-European space plane legislation regulation developed from 2016 and a vertical rocket launch site to be identified in northern Scotland by 2020. And from 2020 to 2030, the CAA expects space planes to be certified and no longer experimental, space plane operations to start from additional sites in the United Kingdom, and most U.K. spaceflights to use U.K. crews.

Whichever spaceport is selected, Xcor and Virgin Galactic are the most likely space plane developers to be in a position to launch from the spaceport in 2018. The report also identifies several other spaceport users: Airbus' Spaceplane, Bristol Spaceplanes' Spacecab, Orbital Sciences' Pegasus rocket, Stratolaunch Systems' air-launched system and Swiss Space Systems' Sub-Orbital Aircraft Reusable vehicle. [See photos of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo]

Market research by the U.K. small satellite maker Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) calculated that the first year of space tourism operations would have 120 tourists with 150 tourists in year three. This assumed Xcor and Virgin Galactic were operating in the United Kingdom. It would mean revenue of $24 million by that year three, SSTL said. By year 10, SSTL expects more than 400 tourists and annual revenues of $65 million.

Red-tape barriers

Despite the United Kingdom-focused timeline, Xcor and Virgin employ U.S. rocket technology. The use of that technology outside of the United States is regulated under export controls. Called International Traffic in Arms Regulations or ITAR, it is the first obstacle to operating rocket-powered space planes outside of the United States. The U.K. Ministry of Defence has made progress on understanding this issue, said U.K. Space Agency Director for Growth, Applications and European Union Programs Catherine Mealing-Jones, speaking at the Space Day Conference.

Another regulatory issue is the legal process to allow the space planes to fly in U.K. airspace up to space. Under the Outer Space Treaty that the United Kingdom signed, governments are responsible for launches by their citizens. The U.K. Space Agency is the regulatory authority for the U.K. Outer Space Act 1986, and discharges the country's obligations under the four outer-space-related treaties. However, Parker told Space.com that because suborbital space planes do not go into orbit, the treaty does not apply. Instead, Parker's agency plans to treat space planes as experimental aircraft under U.K. and European aviation law. Passengers would have to agree to something like the informed consent concept that the FAA is using.

However, the report also states that the United Kingdom should not adopt the FAA approach and instead should remain in step with "future [European Union] developments." The European Union (EU) could have space plane legislation within the next five years. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is an EU agency, and the United Kingdom is a member state of EASA. The EASA official drawing up the space plane legislation, Jean-Bruno Marciacq, told Space.com at the Space Day Conference that the legislative proposals are ready to go the European Commission's (EC) Department of Mobility and Transport.

The delay has been due to the EU's European Parliament elections, held every five years.
 

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I don't think a spaceport near to any major city is a goer. How safe would it be if there was an accident, and what about the pollution it would cause over such a wide area? I think it would have to be a much more rural area - possibly Lincolnshire (Humberside Airport area?), Norfolk/Suffolk, Northumberland, Eastern Scotland... those sorts of areas.

I also question the need for a UK spaceport. I don't really support the UK Space Agency either. I'm a strong supporter of space exploration, but as it is so expensive and requires the best skills from across the world, I think it can only work as international projects. It's just the UK trying to be colonial again. Space is a place for us to work with the ESA and NASA in developing internationally supported projects; to achieve more than we can alone and save us money. We would only need one or two spaceports in Europe - why not build it in a flatter, rural part of France or Spain?
 

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UK is already a big part of ESA I believe. Space is a growing global industry and high science, it makes sense for us to maintain and grow our involvement. It is of course an international industry, but what this would mean is that the UK would be the one getting paid for all the launches and the surrounding science. It would be brilliant to have this somewhere in the north, rather than the south.

Whether it's suitable for an urban area I guess depends on the technology in use - conventionally launched space planes, why not. Not my decision of course.
 

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Six of the eight shortlisted sites are all in Scotland and Liverpool is neither Cornwall nor Snowdonia, so I think the city has been rejected. The Liverpool/Cheshire/Lancashire/Manchester area has a considerable proportion of the UK's population in it and the risk of experimental high-energy (stored in booster rockets or whatever) launches is too great to justify putting it there, even if the cities themselves had the science and technology to make great things of them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
As far as I know, it could really fit near a big city as Liverpool. Rockets are becoming vintage technology by the time the facility is ready. UK is aiming for space planes or single-peace-reusable ships. So... No rockets. This concept would make the spaceport more looking like your local airport, only with much more expensive tickets, more advanced vehicles and more advanced technology.
 

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As far as I know, it could really fit near a big city as Liverpool. Rockets are becoming vintage technology by the time the facility is ready. UK is aiming for space planes or single-peace-reusable ships. So... No rockets. This concept would make the spaceport more looking like your local airport, only with much more expensive tickets, more advanced vehicles and more advanced technology.
If we imagine that the spaceport will be the home to the SKYLON then most of it will still be filled with hydrogen and oxygen tanks, which would be a cause for concern even if the aircraft took off conventionally.

 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
If we imagine that the spaceport will be the home to the SKYLON then most of it will still be filled with hydrogen and oxygen tanks, which would be a cause for concern even if the aircraft took off conventionally.

Well, it's actually totally nothing to worry about. If they design the Space port like NASA's facilities, then the fuel tanks would be separated meters from each other and they will be meters underground. A mishappening is almost impossible. Also the Skylon is as safe as it can be. Apart from one disaster with the fuel there was never another one with any spacecrafts where passengers were aboard.
 

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Well, it's actually totally nothing to worry about. If they design the Space port like NASA's facilities, then the fuel tanks would be separated meters from each other and they will be meters underground. A mishappening is almost impossible. Also the Skylon is as safe as it can be. Apart from one disaster with the fuel there was never another one with any spacecrafts where passengers were aboard.
The worry is that a mishap on takeoff cold send a craft filled to the brim with 'rocket fuel' heading towards a city. The eight shortlisted locations are all so far away from anywhere where people live that there's no real worry that a failed takeoff (or landing) could result in hitting a city. The Liverpool spaceport idea has towns and cities and vital national infrastructure all around it, meaning that the risk of it all ending terribly is much higher than if you take off from Prestwick or Campbeltown. If SKYLON works we would see larger and larger craft using the same technology taking off from the same location, and soon you would get the same sort of destructive power that makes normal rocket launches so dangerous.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
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The worry is that a mishap on takeoff cold send a craft filled to the brim with 'rocket fuel' heading towards a city. The eight shortlisted locations are all so far away from anywhere where people live that there's no real worry that a failed takeoff (or landing) could result in hitting a city. The Liverpool spaceport idea has towns and cities and vital national infrastructure all around it, meaning that the risk of it all ending terribly is much higher than if you take off from Prestwick or Campbeltown. If SKYLON works we would see larger and larger craft using the same technology taking off from the same location, and soon you would get the same sort of destructive power that makes normal rocket launches so dangerous.
Think about it... Do you really think that a vehicle filled to the brim with fuel as you say it would really make it to the ground when it crashes? The fuel and the plane will be burned up before it even starts to fall down. The only thing you'll experiencing on the ground will be fireworks and a big bang.
 

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Think about it... Do you really think that a vehicle filled to the brim with fuel as you say it would really make it to the ground when it crashes? The fuel and the plane will be burned up before it even starts to fall down. The only thing you'll experiencing on the ground will be fireworks and a big bang.
Much as some people might like Richard Branson to flutter back down in a billion tiny flakes, it is just as possible to imagine craft failing uncontrollably just after take-off or before landing, when you might end up with a bigger lump of him than that in your front lawn.

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We need to remember, this isn't for a KSC style complex for orbital launches we are talking about. This would be for sub-orbital flights provided by commercial companies. Vertical takeoff and landing Single-Stage-To-Orbit technology is a long long way off, and Skylon is the only promising development there.

The UK isn't the best place to launch rockets into orbit. We're at too north an inclination to perform any launches that would compete with ESAs facility in French Guyana, Kennedy Space Center, Baikonur, Vostochny, Vandenberg AFB or any other major launch sites globaly. Any such spaceport in the UK would be similar to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Although, while I'm here, a bit of Space Shuttle Program trivia - Campbeltown Airport was a designated TAL (Transoceanic Abort Landing) site should an orbiter fail to reach orbit on launch. The chances of an orbiter actually making it to TAL were very slim.
 

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Campbeltown Airport was a designated TAL (Transoceanic Abort Landing) site should an orbiter fail to reach orbit on launch. The chances of an orbiter actually making it to TAL were very slim.
Actually RAF Fairford was the only UK designated site - not Campbelltown. Campbelltown was a designated emergency landing site though (but alongside 6 other sites)

And it would only have ever been used in a very very extreme circumstance when it would not have been possible to land in the US (cos trying to Fedex a Space Shuttle back to the Kennedy Space Centre is incredibly expensive :)

From my understanding on the space port idea though, it is not possible to setup an existing commercial airport as a space port as there will be far too many times when the launch will have to be delayed. There's no way they could prep a launcher and have it sitting on the runway waiting for the perfect atmospheric conditions between regularly commercial flights landing and taking off. A quieter airport (like New Quay or Campbelltown) would be ok, but not a middle-size airport like Liverpool (or Bristol, Newcastle, Exeter or Cardiff)

So, the Liverpool idea is a non-starter.
 

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The idea for Liverpool is not as far fetched as some of you might think. In the medium to long term, a spaceport needs to be nearer to infrastructure and population as the technology refines, the cost of travel reduces and safety issues are of course addressed.

Having a national spaceport next to the River Mersey minimises some of the key the risks that would be presented by such as project and would be the most viable option should a proposal be brought forward in the future that was considering a location to the outskirts of any of the other major northern conurbations.

Liverpool is located geographically to the centre of the UK and has excellent motorway and rail links. The utilisation of Liverpool airport as a spaceport would also mean the North could have two major international travel hubs, Manchester International and Liverpool Spaceport.
 

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Actually RAF Fairford was the only UK designated site - not Campbelltown. Campbelltown was a designated emergency landing site though (but alongside 6 other sites)

And it would only have ever been used in a very very extreme circumstance when it would not have been possible to land in the US (cos trying to Fedex a Space Shuttle back to the Kennedy Space Centre is incredibly expensive :)

From my understanding on the space port idea though, it is not possible to setup an existing commercial airport as a space port as there will be far too many times when the launch will have to be delayed. There's no way they could prep a launcher and have it sitting on the runway waiting for the perfect atmospheric conditions between regularly commercial flights landing and taking off. A quieter airport (like New Quay or Campbelltown) would be ok, but not a middle-size airport like Liverpool (or Bristol, Newcastle, Exeter or Cardiff)

So, the Liverpool idea is a non-starter.
I am very much mistaken then!
 

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The worry is that a mishap on takeoff cold send a craft filled to the brim with 'rocket fuel' heading towards a city. The eight shortlisted locations are all so far away from anywhere where people live that there's no real worry that a failed takeoff (or landing) could result in hitting a city. The Liverpool spaceport idea has towns and cities and vital national infrastructure all around it, meaning that the risk of it all ending terribly is much higher than if you take off from Prestwick or Campbeltown. If SKYLON works we would see larger and larger craft using the same technology taking off from the same location, and soon you would get the same sort of destructive power that makes normal rocket launches so dangerous.
Is it really that different in concept to a conventional aircraft (a molotov cocktail with wings)? Jet A1 is a very volatile and explosive mixture and a large airliner can be carrying over 100 tonnes of the stuff on take-off. As for oxygen, that is all around us anyway.

The issue is more about the potential risk of a catastrophe happening - airliners are a very mature technology with six decades of refinement, Skylon will be a proof of concept barely developed beyond the prototype stage.
 

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The idea for Liverpool is not as far fetched as some of you might think. In the medium to long term, a spaceport needs to be nearer to infrastructure and population as the technology refines, the cost of travel reduces and safety issues are of course addressed.

Having a national spaceport next to the River Mersey minimises some of the key the risks that would be presented by such as project and would be the most viable option should a proposal be brought forward in the future that was considering a location to the outskirts of any of the other major northern conurbations.

Liverpool is located geographically to the centre of the UK and has excellent motorway and rail links. The utilisation of Liverpool airport as a spaceport would also mean the North could have two major international travel hubs, Manchester International and Liverpool Spaceport.
Whatever the technical reality may be, there is no harm in exploring the possibilities and giving it a go, and in that you and the rest of the people involved know you will have the city behind you all the way.
 
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