UK Government funding for vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland

Galtero Lara
Julio 16, 2018

The furthermost points of mainland Britain are on course to become launch pads into space.

Artwork shows the spaceport at Scotland's Sutherland site. The UK Space Agency determined that the spot on Scotland's north coast was the best place to target highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets.

The spaceports could be worth £3.8bn to the UK economy over the next decade, according to the UK Space Agency. "The U.K.'s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites".

"In Spire, Scotland already sports Europe's most advanced and prolific satellite manufacturing capability, and with a space port right next door, enabling clockwork-like launches, we can finally get our space sector supply chain to be truly integrated". The focus of that effort had been on existing airports that could support flights of suborbital vehicles or air-launch systems.

Sutherland is the first vertical launch site to be awarded the grant money, ahead of other vertical sites at Unst, Shetland, and North Uist in the Western Isles.

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This major partnership between the Cornwall spaceport and Virgin Orbit - announced at 10.30pm tonight - will see the first launch take place by 2021.

In addition, the UK Government is also making available a new £2 million fund to boost further horizontal launch spaceport sites across Britain - such as Glasgow Prestwick. A detailed plan to support such launches from the spaceport, including licensing of the airport as a spaceport, will be developed after the agreement is signed.

The Newquay site, known as Spaceport Cornwall, has already recruited a satellite launch provider: Virgin Orbit, a California-based company that's part of British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group. On July 6, Virgin Orbit announced a memorandum of understanding with the Italian company Sitael that could lead to LauncherOne missions from Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in southern Italy, although the agreement didn't set a timetable for such missions.

"The Cornwall partnership allows us to grasp important market share, gain instant global market credibility and, with the technology already being tested in the USA, further lower our risk", Patrick McCall, managing director for Virgin group and chairman of Virgin Orbit's board of directors, said in a news release.

"These grants will help kickstart an exciting new era for the United Kingdom space industry, and this is only the beginning of our LaunchUK campaign", said space agency chief executive Graham Turnock.

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