Science & Environment

UK ministers issue spaceport shortlist

Virgin Galactic Image copyright Virgin galactic
Image caption Various rocket planes and air-launched satellite systems are currently in development

The UK government has issued a shortlist of aerodromes that could host a UK spaceport.

The list reduces the number of runways first suggested as candidates when last year's consultation got under way.

Still in are Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick, and Stornoway in Scotland; Newquay in England and Llanbedr in Wales. RAF Leuchars is confirmed as a potential temporary facility.

Ministers are keen to see the spaceport established by 2018.

To make that happen, they will also have to put in place the necessary regulatory and licensing arrangements.

The government has ruled out two airfields in the consultation: RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks in Scotland. The decision was made for operational defence reasons, it said.

The emphasis will be 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 potential vehicles are still quite some time away from flying, but ministers believe that if the UK gets its act together now, the nation can catch the first wave when it arrives.

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 is why the six potentials listed 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).

Aviation minister Robert Goodwill said in a statement: “I want Britain to lead the way in commercial spaceflight. Establishing a spaceport will ensure we are at the forefront of this exciting new technology.

“Today’s consultation response marks another step forward in our work to support this emerging industry, which will create jobs and drive economic growth.”

Image caption Spaceplane systems may need runway lengths of 3,000m and more

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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