UK spaceflight is about to take the next step in aerospace dominance. The UK Space Agency, with support from Lockheed Martin, will develop Europe’s first spaceport on A’Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland, Scotland. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) will develop the launch site in Sutherland with initial funding of £2.5 million. The plan is to use proven and new innovative rocket technologies to lay the foundation for UK spaceflight to become world-leaders.
In addition, a further £2.5 million will go to the development of horizontal launch sites in Cornwall, Argyll and Wales. These sites could boost UK spaceflight and the economy even further presenting significant opportunities for companies all over the globe to invest in Britain.
The UK Space Agency estimates that the satellite launching market could be worth up to £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next ten years. If all goes according to plan, the Sutherland spaceport should be operational early in 2020.
Business Secretary Greg Clark believes that, “As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy. The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites.”
Clark added that the development of this site would build on their global reputation for manufacturing small satellites. This could really help the country capitalise on the massive potential of the commercial space age.
Scotland Ideal For UK Spaceflight Programme
While space launches near the equator are best suited for geostationary satellites, locations further north are preferred for satellite orbits using vertically launched rockets. It is the ideal place in the UK for satellites used in earth mapping and observation as well as telecommunications.
Fact is, there are a number of sites across the UK developing their own spaceport plans. They are engaging with regulators, signifying the industry’s strong intent and true potential of the UK spaceflight industry. The UK builds more small satellites than any other country while Glasgow builds more than any other city in Europe. These facilities could help lower the cost of launching into space which is essential for this flourishing market.
Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency had the following to say:
“This spaceport grant will help to kick-start an exciting new era for the UK space industry, and this is only the beginning of our LaunchUK campaign. We are committed to supporting a commercial market for access to space in the UK, and we will continue to engage with any company who seeks to operate here.”
Organisations in the UK will benefit from small-satellite launches and sub-orbital flights to ensure they remain at the top of commercial space services. It will create new and highly skilled jobs, improve local economies within the communities around spaceports and the entire UK space sector.
Lockheed Martin, CubeSats And The UK Space Agency
The announcement from Lockheed Martin is part of a strategy to promote space launch technology in the UK. In addition to the Sutherland development, Lockheed Martin is also working on a CubeSat delivery vehicle in partnership with Moog. The system is designed to carry up to six small CubeSat modules and deploy them into orbit at various intervals. According to Lockheed, this Small Launch Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (SL-OMV) “can deploy [satellites] at the most optimal times and positions for their respective missions.”
Lockheed Martin also partnered with Orbital Microsystems. They plan to create and fly pathfinder tests UK-built in order to validate the performance of the SL-OMV. Patrick Wood, Lockheed’s UK Country Executive for Space, believes that this historic UK ‘pathfinder’ launch will demonstrate the incredible potential of small satellites and CubeSats. In particular, across a wide range of commercial and government data collection applications.
Wood added that, “We believe, as the UK Space Agency does, that this effort will help bring the UK to the forefront of the rapidly-growing, global small satellite market and support the UK’s maturing space supply chain.”
The UK has the ideal geography and highly skilled engineers in aerospace, electronics and software to be successful. Every person, organisation or agency appears ready and willing to diversify and thrive in this fast-growing space sector. This initiative will certainly promote advancements in science and innovation. It also provides new opportunities for existing and potential UK-based suppliers to be part of the next space age.
While Europe already has a spaceport, it is located in South America which effectively makes Sutherland the first. The Sutherland development has already received an overwhelming reception. BBC reports that Lockheed Martin wants to launch their Electron rocket from Scotland instead of their site in New Zealand.
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