The site will support rocket takeoffs, while three other sites will support space missions launched from aircraft.
Initial funding of £2.5 million will go to Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop the vertical launch site in Sutherland which will use a combination of existing and new rocket technologies. There is also over of £60m backing for the UK division of Lockheed Martin and UK rocket startup Orbex. The spaceport should be operational in the next three to five years.
The horizontal launch sites will be at Newquay in Cornwall, Glasgow Prestwick in Scotland and Snowdonia in Wales with support from a £2m fund for sub-orbital flights and satellite launches via aircraft.
“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. “This will build on our global reputation for manufacturing small satellites and help the whole country capitalise on the huge potential of the commercial space age,” said Greg Clark MP, the UK government business secretary.
The initial £30m of funding comes from the £50 million UK Spaceflight Programme. “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,” said Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency.
The plans boost small satellite developers such as Clyde Space, Spire Global and Surrey Satellite Technologies (STL) as well as Airbus, Lockheed and London-based startup Orbex that emerged from stealth mode with the announcement.
The UK division of Lockheed Martin will develop and build an orbital manoeuvring vehicle that will deploy up to six small satellites to separate orbits with two UK Space Agency grants totalling £23.5, while a further £5.5 million will go to British startup Orbex to build a new rocket system for Sutherland.
Orbex has so far raised a total of £30m to develop an orbital launch vehicle called Prime to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit, using a single renewable fuel, bio-propane, that cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to hydrocarbon fuels. IT has with subsidiaries and production facilities in Copenhagen, Denmark and in Germany.
“We’re delighted to have been selected after a highly competitive and detailed process. Orbex is one of the very few private spaceflight companies with credible practical experience in the development of launch vehicles and rocket engines. With the support of this grant from the UK Space Agency, we will soon be launching small satellites into orbit from British soil and helping to transform the UK into an important hub for commercial space launch operations,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex.