Spaceport Britain: ‘No challenge is insurmountable’

Jul 17, 2014

By Jonathan Amos

 

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-breathing rocket-engine technology, and they’ve declared their desire to see a home spaceport.

The Civil Aviation Authority was tasked with undertaking a review of the possibilities and has delivered an extremely positive verdict – that although there are challenges in launching from the UK, there are no insurmountable obstacles.

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-cost rocket planes that can launch fare-paying passengers to sub-orbital altitudes and also satellites into orbit.

Most of these vehicles are still quite a few years away from ever flying, but ministers believe that if the UK gets its act together now, the nation can catch the first wave when it arrives.

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-seater Lynx vehicle.

“We expect to start our flight test programme in Q1 of 2015 and be taking people up at the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016,” said Xcor president Andrew Nelson.

“We could fly out of Scotland, but we like the look particularly of Newquay. It’s excellent that the UK is investigating this because it can only help the market to grow.”

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.

12 comments on “Spaceport Britain: ‘No challenge is insurmountable’

  • 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.

    Yep! Britain had its own satellite successful launch system ahead of the field!

    Unfortunately political and bureaucratic muppets, decided there was no commercial market for small satellite launchers, so the UK has been paying the US, French, and Russians to launch UK satellites ever since!



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  • @OP – 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”.

    As I understand it, that translated into English, means they throw out the rule-book on aircraft and passenger safety requirements!

    @OP – This would allow us to define a regulatory framework at national level, outside the reach of the EU.

    Ooooo! Those nasty European safety regulations! Let’s join the American de-regulators in a competitive race to the bottom of the safety league so as to attract space operators!!

    @OP- 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.

    Yep! In the usual manner of corporate priorities over people!

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/virgin-galactic-space-tourists-could-be-grounded-by-faa-1.2501310

    Legislation directly addressing commercial spaceflights was first tabled in 2004, the same year AST’s mandate was expanded to include privately financed manned missions.

    Shortly after, the U.S. Congress ordered AST to suspend the usual safety requirements for companies building spaceships until 2012 to help the industry get started.

    The move was part of an effort to nurture the nascent industry and limit regulatory interference, says Frans von der Dunk, a professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    It sounds as if the lessons of the Space-Shuttles have not been learned! Safety is not an optional extra, to be provided if the company feels like being generous!

    The suspension was subsequently extended to October 2015, when it became clear that progress in private space travel was proving more difficult than originally assumed.

    But this means that if Virgin Galactic does indeed get their commercial operator’s licence this year, the flights could take place without the kind of safety rules that go into more conventional forms of air travel.



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  • old-toy-boy Jul 17, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Is this supposed to be a joke?

    Nope!
    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/science-technology/space-tourists-could-blasting-orbit-3864545

    SPACE tourists could be blasting into orbit from one of eight sites named as possible locations for Britain’s first spaceport in just four years’ time.

    Six of the sites shortlisted for the spaceport, due to open in 2018, are in Scotland. They include Glasgow Prestwick Airport and RAF Lossiemouth.

    All have to meet strict criteria, including being a safe distance from densely populated areas and a runway that can be extended to more than 3,000m (9,842ft).

    The aim is to use the spaceport to launch tourists into space as well as commercial satellites.

    By 2030, the Government hopes to capture 10% of the world’s space market. If this target is met, opening up the UK tourism industry to specialist operators such as Virgin Galactic and XCor could be worth £40 billion and provide 100,000 jobs.

    Making the announcement at the Farnborough Air Show, Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill said: “In order to lead the way on commercial space flight, we will need to establish a spaceport that enables us to operate regular flights.

    “The work published today has got the ball rolling – now we want to work with others to take forward this exciting project and have Britain’s first spaceport up and running by 2018.”

    The full list of possible spaceport locations is:

    Campbeltown Airport (Scotland)
    Glasgow Prestwick Airport (Scotland)
    Llanbedr Airport (Wales)
    Newquay Cornwall Airport (England)
    Kinloss Barracks (Scotland)
    RAF Leuchars (Scotland)
    RAF Lossiemouth (Scotland)
    Stornorway Airport (Scotland)

    There have been reports that the Government is hoping Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson will build the port as part of his Virgin Galactic project.

    Virgin Galactic’s first flights are scheduled to take off from a purpose-built spaceport in New Mexico, USA, at the start of the year, with passengers paying £120,000 for a 150-minute flight that will climb to heights of around 62 miles (100km) to achieve zero gravity for approximately six minutes.

    I’m not sure how many passengers will pay £120,000 for a short 150 minute sub-orbital ride to nowhere in particular!



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  • @OP – 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).

    Unfortunately these very promising projects have lacked UK government support and been neglected. Skylon looks much more promising than Virgin’s space tourism!

    http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/press_release/S-ELSO_Press_Release-Monday_5th_August_2013.pdf

    http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/space_skylon_caps.html

    The SABRE Engine
    http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/sabre.html



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  • Nobody beats the UK for pretty pictures of exciting things that will probably never happen. Quite tragic really that most Brits probably don’t even know we once had a working satellite launch system all of our own. And I’ll just add “Hotol”, because it’s obligatory to mention that in any discussion about Britain and space.



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  • paulmcuk Jul 18, 2014 at 3:25 am

    Quite tragic really that most Brits probably don’t even know we once had a working satellite launch system all of our own. And I’ll just add “Hotol”, because it’s obligatory to mention that in any discussion about Britain and space.

    Yep! The UK has some of the best scientists leading the way, and some of the doziest politicians holding back their progress.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylon_%28spacecraft%29

    Skylon is based on a previous project of Alan Bond, known as HOTOL.[9] The development of HOTOL began in 1982, at a time when space technology was moving towards reusable launch systems such as the Space Shuttle. In conjunction with British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce, a promising design emerged to which the British government contributed £2 million. However, in 1988, the government withdrew further funding, and development was terminated. Following this setback, Bond decided to set up his own company, Reaction Engines Limited, with the hope of continuing development with private funding.



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  • 8
    God fearing Atheist says:

    The best launch site to achieve orbit is on the equator. Why not develop the spacecraft in the UK and launch on the equator? Like the French do from French Guiana.



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  • 9
    old-toy-boy says:

    These are my reasons why This article is either (hopefully) a joke, or the complete incompetent rambling of some ignorant government official who does not know one end of a rocket from another.

    The papers/documents referred to in is article are both about how the official paperwork of how to build and run a space port is to be done. Nothing about science, nothing about technology, nothing about space flight, etc etc. It is like getting planning permission to build an airport in the 1800s before developing heavier than air transport. I admit I have not read it, I am judging it by its title. ( I have better thing to do with my time).

    Britain has no space industry at all, Most of so called “aerospace” industry, It is just aero. They call it aerospace because it sound good, but it is incapable of making and putting anything into orbit, or escaping earth’s gravity. (very high altitude flights is not space flight.). Let’s face it, Britain could not even keep Concord flying, or build new ones, all the design work has already been done, there have been huge advances in material science, computing, engine development. and we still cannot make a new one. The only thing stopping it is the b**dy bureaucrats. (same thing with the Harrier). Lets face it we cannot even get the road traffic sorted out at our existing airports, never mind the flying stuff.

    And finally, what is the point of putting a “space-port” at the longitude of Britain? The equator already travels at 460m/s, Britain goes at 270m/s. That difference has to be made up by burning rocket fuel or use some other launch system, But if one has such a launch system why not just put it on the equator which has a 190m/s head start. If you were to argue that any space craft launched from Britain are not intended to achieve orbit or escape velocity, then it is NOT a spacecraft. You might as l well call the local airfield an Inter-Galactic hyperspace port.



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  • how many passengers

    700, according to VG website.

    short

    Quality over quantity.

    nowhere in particular

    Journey, not destination.

    Considering the uniqueness, I’m surprised there aren’t more signed up. Maybe waiting to see how the test subjects, I mean passengers fare, lol.



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  • Unfortunately political and bureaucratic muppets, decided there was no commercial market for small satellite launchers, so the UK has been paying the US, French, and Russians to launch UK satellites ever since!

    The Black Arrow launch site in Australia could also have been a world class centre of space technology, rather than Oz being a political centre of religiously backward coal diggers!



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  • bonnie Jul 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    nowhere in particular

    Journey, not destination.

    I’m guessing, but if you put together the view from a passenger jet window, the video from the ISS, and a ride in the “Vomit Comet”, that pretty well covers the experience, – and with a much less coverage both in time and area viewed.
    Once the novelty of the “I flew to space”, conversation piece has worn off, this will not be much of an industry!

    http://www.space.com/25797-nasa-hd-earth-from-space-video-webcasts.html

    Daydreaming about being an astronaut just got a whole lot easier.

    NASA is now live-streaming views of Earth from space captured by four commercial high-definition video cameras that were installed on the exterior of the International Space Station last month. The project, known as the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment, aims to test how cameras perform in the space environment. You can see the live HD views of Earth from space here:

    http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/Videos/CrewEarthObservationsVideos/

    The vehicles can be used for more useful purposes, such as transport to the ISS, or satellite launches, but equatorial sites are more efficient for these.



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