First published o the BBC Website 15 July 2014
See original here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-
It's more than 40 years since Britain abandoned its own launch capability, cancelling the Black Arrow programme just as it successfully lofted the Prospero satellite. The subsequent withdrawal from the European Ariane programme confirmed Britain's deep aversion to rockets. Until now. The climate is changing. Ministers are putting public funds (albeit a small sum) into an air-
Eight coastal aerodromes have been identified that could potentially host a base for spaceplanes, and these will now feature in a consultation process as the government looks to establish the necessary regulatory and licensing arrangements ahead of a 2018 opening. The emphasis is on the expected emergence of a new breed of low-
The economic projections are for a market that could be worth billions by the 2030s, and the UK wants a slice of the action. Virgin Galactic is perhaps the spaceplane concept best known to the public, but there are others being developed in the US, such as Xcor with its two-
Spaceplane systems may need runway lengths of 3,000m and more. In the UK, potential spaceplanes are further back in the development chain. There is the Ascender concept from Bristol Spaceplanes, and Skylon from Reaction Engines (although this is more likely to fly from an equatorial port). For any of these vehicles to operate in Britain, special arrangements would have to be put in place, according to the CAA. While technically classified as "aircraft", none could currently meet the requirements that provide the oversight for flight operations in Europe today. Instead, Britain would need to classify spaceplanes as "experimental aircraft".
This would allow us to define a regulatory framework at national level, outside the reach of the EU. We could then draw up rules on aspects such as airworthiness, segregated airspace, crew licensing and even passenger participation. The US, as you might expect, has already thought about these matters, and so there is a model to follow.
How often does the UK experience conditions suitable for a tourism spaceflight? "It is important to recognise that we do not consider these systems to be 'common carriers'," explained Dr George Nield from the US Federal Aviation Administration. "In the US, things have been set up intentionally to recognise that spaceflight is inherently risky, and that all those who fly need to provide their 'informed consent' after a thorough briefing by the operator. "It needs to be very clear that when you step on to one of these systems, it is not like stepping on to a commercial airliner where you have every expectation of arriving safely at your destination." This will put some limits on liability.
Precisely where the British spaceport would be sited will depend on a number of factors, but the overriding imperative of the licensing authorities will be to find a location that limits danger and inconvenience to the general public. That's why the eight potentials listed this week by the UK Space Agency are all on the coast: the spaceplanes could then operate out over water. Even so, the environmental impacts will have to be carefully managed, and an opening found in Britain's highly congested airspace (more than two million flights transit UK airspace every year). But as the CAA makes clear in its report -
Some additional notes. The major interest of ministers and the space industry in a UK spaceport is as a facility to enable satellite launches, rather than passenger space tourism. It can be hard sometimes to find a berth for your satellite on a carrier rocket -
It should also be mentioned that there is some scepticism about the suitability of the UK as a location to launch space tourists. If you've paid $250,000 for a ticket, you don't want to float to the window and look down on a grey bank of cloud. You want to see snow-
And then there's the thorny issue of US export control. The Americans classify space technology as munitions and have some stiff rules that, as presently constituted, would complicate the likes of Virgin Galactic or Xcor from operating in the UK. Can Britain, with its "special relationship" with the US, smooth the path to early operations? George Whitesides, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, said his company was concentrating at the moment on getting its US operation into service, but added that he was very impressed with the British attitude.
"The rigour with which the UK government has approached this general issue of commercial spaceflight -
Newquay Airport is aiming for the stars as it hopes to be chosen as the UK's spaceport for satellite launches and space tourism. Ministers want to establish the UK spaceport by 2018.
The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said Newquay Airport had been identified as one of eight possible locations. An announcement on spaceport options is expected to be made at the Farnborough Air Show on Tuesday. Newquay is believed to be the only potential spaceport site in England, but there are six possible sites in Scotland and one in Wales.
Such a facility would house rockets and spaceplanes which would carry satellites, astronauts and even tourists into orbit. Last week, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the government was "pushing forward with plans to open a spaceport in the UK by 2018". For ministers and the space industry, the major interest in a UK spaceport is as a facility to enable satellite launches, but hopefully it would also become a centre for the new tourism initiatives from specialist operators such as Virgin Galactic and XCor.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills refused to comment ahead of Tuesday's official announcement.
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|SPACE PLANE DEVELOPERS|
|CORNWALL & IOS LEP|
|THE THEORETICAL SPACEPLANE DESIGN|
|RAF ST MAWGAN|
|ST MAWGAN VILLAGE|
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|SPACE AGENCY STATEMENT|