Britain’s spaceports could be operational from next summer as the UK Government looks to break down barriers to space exploration.
New regulatory proposals unveiled this week mean that satellites and rockets can officially launch from UK soil for the first time, with launches taking place in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.
Developed with the UK Space Agency and Civil Aviation Authority, the new legislation will allow spaceports to seek a license to operate across the country from this summer.
It is hoped the legislation will accelerate the development of the UK space industry and fuel innovation across a range of areas, from traditional rockets to high-altitude balloons and ‘spaceplanes’.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps hailed the announcement as a “pivotal moment” for Britain’s spaceflight ambitions.
He said: “Since the start of the spaceflight programme in 2017, we have been clear that we want to be the first country to launch into orbit from Europe.
“The laying of these regulations puts us firmly on track to see the first UK launches take place from 2022, unlocking a new era in commercial spaceflight for all four corners of our nation.”
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Spaceport projects are expected to create new jobs for communities across the country. In Scotland, two projects are currently underway that could also unlock huge economic benefits.
Once completed, the Shetland Space Centre development could support more than 600 jobs, with hundreds of roles created locally.
Similarly, plans for a vertical launch site in Sutherland could support more than 400 jobs across a range of areas.
Across the UK, the government hopes new legislative changes will also help attract companies from around the globe to capitalise on new commercial opportunities.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway commented: “Continuing to grow our launch capability will help bring jobs and economic benefits across the UK.
“The Space Industry Regulations we’ve tabled today will create a supportive, attractive and safe environment for commercial spaceflight.”
Rocket company Orbex is among the many firms hoping to capitalise on Britain’s commerical space boom.
In December 2020, the Forres-headquartered firm secured £18 million in funding from BGF and Octopus Ventures, and the investment is enabling it to secure a roadmap to its first launch from the Sutherland spaceport.
Speaking to DIGIT, CEO Chris Larmour welcomed the announcement as a positive step for the UK Space industry.
He said: “To be able to launch a rocket into orbit, you need three things. You need a rocket, a spaceport and you need the regulatory environment. Orbex has made a lot of progress with our rocket and that will be ready to launch from next year.
“The second thing is the spaceport. Our “home” spaceport is Space Hub Sutherland, which is still the only spaceport that has received planning permission in the UK.”
Larmour added: “And the third thing is the regulatory environment. With today’s announcement, we are hopeful that this will be in place and that the appropriate infrastructure and licences will follow in short order for Orbex to be able to launch from next year.”
Volodymyr Levykin, CEO of Skyrora, echoed Larmour’s comments, stating: “Today the UK moved a step closer to offering launch capabilities within the next year, signalling its intent to continue as a global power in the space economy.
“These regulations will help to unlock the huge economic opportunity that is launch in the UK and provide a number of options to get cutting-edge technology into orbit and create new commercial industries.”
Levykin continued: “Britain has a long heritage in rocket engineering, from Black Arrow 50 years ago, to the talent spread across the globe today, working in space organisations and private companies.”
“With the steps taken today and different space ports being developed, the UK has an opportunity to bring much of that talent back home and inspire the next generation.”