Machrihanish, Sutherland, and Prestwick are among the Scottish locations being considered as potential launch sites for the UK’s first spaceport. If selected, Scotland would benefit from increased investment, job creation and even more prominent role in the UK’s space industry, which is expected to continue to expand.
As of 2017, the space industry provides £134 million net value to the Scottish economy. According to Craig Berry, in a report for Glasgow think tank Common Weal, the local Scottish economy could potentially benefit from as much as £60 – £100m from just the creation of the launch site.
Dr Phillipa Whitford MP, who sits on the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Space Committee, said that the second reading of the Space Industry Bill, which took place on Monday, was another opportunity to highlight Scotland’s prominent role and expertise in the UK space industry.
The UK Space Industry at a Glance
The UK space sector is on an upward trajectory, having trebled in size since 2000. It has enjoyed a growth rate of 8% annually and provides an added £5.1 billion of value (GVA) to the UK economy.
The 2016 UK space industry: size and health report showed that the sector’s turnover had risen from £6.3bn in 2004-05 to £13.7bn in 2014-15 – equivalent to 6.5% of the global space economy. In the past two years, Glasgow has built more satellites than any other European city.
Despite the UK’s pre-eminence as a satellite builder – building 40% of the world’s small satellites and 25% of the world’s telecom satellites – it lacks the capacity to launch these satellites into space. At the moment the UK-made satellites have to be shipped abroad to be piggybacked into space.
The government has made the establishment of a UK Spaceport a key priority for 2018, which will support its ambitious plan of reaching £40bn turnover and to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030.
Requirements for Launch Site
To be considered a potential launch sit it must a safe distance from densely populated areas and have a runway that could be extended to more than 3,000 metres (9,842ft), as the government envisaged the spaceport launching horizontally instead of vertically. Other locations being considered are Llanbedr in Wales and Newquay in England.
Jo Johnson MP, said: “We’re putting in place new laws to make this possible and continue to work with the industry to establish the UK as a world leading destination for space launch. But this is not just about rockets and spaceports – this could also create opportunities up and down the supply chain in satellite technology, aerospace, transport, tourism and beyond. Our Industrial Strategy provided up to £50 million to enable satellite launch services to take place from the UK for the first time ever.”
Dr Malcolm Macdonald, director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications at Strathclyde University, said: “Whether they will ever become a day to day spaceport, that’s quite a long way down the line but in some respects even if you develop the local capability in Scotland to design and build the vehicles that are accessing space but they go off to operate in China, if they are designed and built in Scotland we are getting a lot of that value anyway.”