Britain is at risk of losing billions if it doesn’t join the space tourism race and build its own spaceport where satellites and intrepid travelers could be blasted into orbit, claim business leaders.
A spaceport would help the British space industry ‘really lift off’ and bring in millions to the economy, according to the Institute of Directors (IoD).
Several locations have been proposed including Scotland, Northern Ireland, South West England or even a joint purpose built air and spaceport in the Severn Estuary.
Other suggestions included lengthening the runway at an RAF base in Scotland or Northern Ireland – for instance, RAF Lossiemouth.
The proposals are set out in a new IoD report, Space – Britain’s New Infrastructure Frontier, which catalogues the rapid growth of Britain’s £8 billion space sector.
The space industry in the UK, which is largely satellite based, supports 85,000 jobs and has more than doubled in size in the last decade. By 2020, it is expected to employ 100,000.
But it could go much further, according to the IoD, with the growing emergence of a ‘private sector space revolution’ ushered in by the end of the American space agency Nasa’s space shuttle program.
A host of companies are now competing to provide space taxi services with the cost of getting cargo into orbit was lowering rapidly.
The Falcon 9 vehicle from SpaceX, for example, had reduced the cost per kilo of reaching low earth orbit to just over £3,146, compared with between £11,325 and £37,750 for the space shuttle.
SpaceX already had contracts with Nasa worth more than four billion US dollars (£2.5 billion) to launch cargos to the International Space Station and deliver satellites into orbit.
‘Globally, the squeeze on public space agencies such as Nasa is leading to a private sector space revolution, with steep cuts in the cost of getting cargo into orbit,’ said the IoD.
‘A massive opportunity beckons for the UK, should we choose to understand and embrace it.
‘A few regulatory and infrastructure developments, including licensing a spaceport, would help the (British) space sector really lift off,’ the report added.
Critical requirements for a spaceport were a long runway, an isolated and thinly populated location, and an undisturbed high altitude air corridor.
Skylon, a British-designed reusable space plane now at the early stages of development, would need a runway 16,400 feet long compared with Heathrow’s 12,800 feet.
A spaceport would act as a ‘hub for space tourism, research and development’, said the IoD.
The report argues: ‘Space tourism… should not be forgotten. Space tourists are willing to pay 200,000 dollars (£128,415) a ticket for a mere three hours in space.
‘Crucially though, they will spend much longer within the vicinity of the spaceport and will no doubt have a lot of disposable income that would help the wider economy.’