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July 15, 2014 7:52 pm
Space tourism and the continued rapid growth of Britain’s space industry will provide a £1bn annual boost to the economy, the government has said.
The Civil Aviation Authority has recommended that spaceplanes should be treated as experimental aircraft, allowing them to carry fare-paying passengers, in a move that will further boost the sector.
Ministers want a spaceport to be constructed in the UK by 2018, which would serve as a base for tourists taking spaceplanes and where commercial satellites could be launched and space research undertaken.
Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic, which is based in New Mexico and is due to begin flights this year, is set to operate from the spaceport.
Eight possible locations have been identified for the spaceport, including six in Scotland – Stornoway airport, Kinloss Barracks, RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Leuchars, Glasgow Prestwick airport and Campbeltown airport. The other sites are Llanbder airport in Wales and Newquay Cornwall airport.
The transport department opened a consultation on Tuesday on the merits of each option but space agency directors are working on the basis that Scotland would continue to be part of the UK.
The UK space industry’s has grown by 7.2 per cent during the past two years, according to official figures, contributing £11.3bn to the economy annually and providing employment for 34,000 people.
The government is targeting revenues of £40bn a year, 10 per cent of the expected global market, by 2030 for the sector.
On Tuesday, Lockheed Martin, the US aerospace and defence company, announced it is to set up a space office at the UK Space Gateway in Harwell, Oxford.
However, there would be numerous challenges facing the UK in developing a space industry, said Peter B de Selding, Paris bureau chief at SpaceNews.
Insurance companies would be unwilling to insure space tourists because accidents in a fledgling industry would lead to costly claims, he said.
In addition, complex red tape and regulation currently in place would be difficult to ease. There would also be environmental concerns, he said.
Robert Goodwill, aviation minister, said: “To lead the way on commercial space flight, we will need to establish a spaceport that enables us to operate regular flights. The work published today has got the ball rolling.”
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