Wales

First spaceport will not be in Snowdonia

Artist impression of aerospace centre Image copyright UKSpace
Image caption Artist impression of what the first horizontal spaceport could look like

Snowdonia will not be the home to the UK's first spaceport but it could still be a base for future space travel, it has emerged.

The UK Space Agency has chosen the A'Mhoine Peninsula in Scotland as the preferred site for vertical launches.

But it has not ruled out Llanbedr Airfield for horizontal launches being developed for spaceplanes.

The Aerospace Wales Forum chief executive said he was delighted Llandbedr was still in the running.

John Whalley said: "Because of geography and physics, the only sensible place to launch big rockets in the UK is the north of Scotland.

"If things go wrong they are not going to come down on centres of population as you are flying out over the North Sea."

The agency said the Scottish site was chosen as it was the best place in the UK to reach satellite orbits with vertically-launched rockets.

It has also announced a new £2m development fund for horizontal launch spaceports across the UK at potential sites such as Prestwick, Newquay and Snowdonia, subject to a successful business case.

Analysis by Brian Meechan, BBC Wales business correspondent

Image copyright Getty Images

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but in reality space is big business now and will be even bigger in the not-too-distant future.

Wales already has a thriving aerospace industry with some companies and universities already active in the space sector.

Llanbedr has a lot going for it as a spaceport site and there will be disappointment in the industry in Wales that it has not been chosen as the UK's first spaceport.

However, the door has been left open to it developing into one in future.

The £2m fund to help with that will be welcomed. However, it is not a lot of money given the investment required and other sites will also be bidding for it.

The agency said the fund was aimed at boosting ambitions for sub-orbital flight, satellite launches and spaceplanes.

Last December, a Gwynedd council report said plans to turn Llanbedr airfield into an aerospace centre of excellence, trialling remotely piloted vehicles, would cost £25m.

Image copyright UKSpace

The Welsh Government owns Llanbedr airfield, a former military site, but it is leased to Snowdonia Aerospace LLP which works closely with defence contractor QinetiQ.

Mr Whalley said the group had been "working hard" behind the scenes to attract inward investment and discussions were ongoing.

He said "technology is still being developed" for horizontal flights which would more likely be used for space tourists in the future, although it was some way off.

"We are delighted that Llanbedr and the Snowdonia aerospace centre is still in the running," he said.

"Who knows where the first horizontal spaceport is going to be?

"The UK Space Agency has always said that is based on commercial competition but also, most importantly, on the safety case for the airfield.

"So, for example, Llanbedr is in a pretty good position in terms of producing a sensible safety case because it has an area of low population and you are going straight out to sea."

Image copyright Geograph/Roger Brooks
Image caption Llanbedr Airfield employed 130 people before it closed in 2004

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said the UK government had an "ambition to take the UK into the commercial space age".

"Wales now has an exciting window of opportunity to take a leading role in shaping that future," he said.

"We have the right geography and a skilled engineering base in aerospace, electronics and the software industries, standing ready to diversify and to flourish in the fast-developing space market."

However, a spokesman for Shell Island campsite, which neighbours Llanbedr airfield, said the news that the vertical launch site will be in Scotland had lifted "a little weight" off their shoulders.

"However, we now look forward to hearing from the Welsh Government ministers, Snowdonia Aerospace, and the UK Space Agency on what 'impact' the horizontal launch facility will have for all [the airfield's] neighbouring established businesses, which attract [tens of thousands] of tourists a year, " he added.

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