Spaceport Newquay Comment: Origininally published in ‘The Engineer’ but this has a very incisive view of the situation. Not exactly positive in its tone it addresses many of the questions raised by the whole UK Spaceport concept.
Stephen Harris, Senior reporter ‘The Engineer’
The prospect of a UK spaceport being built has generated plenty of public excitement but does it actually make sense for the aerospace industry? Spaceport support?
18 July 2014
“This week’s announcement of eight shortlisted sites for a potential UK spaceport caused much excitement. And it’s easy to see why. The image of Britain as a hub for reusable spaceplanes embarking on science, travel and tourism missions is certainly an exciting one from an economic, scientific and plain patriotic point of view.
But there was also some confusion over whether it was actually feasible to launch vehicles into space from the UK. And while the government was enthusiastically championing the idea, the companies actually developing spaceplanes didn’t appear to show the same level of support. So is a UK spaceport likely or even possible? Most current space launches tend to be from sites much closer to the equator than the UK, and the latitude of a launch site has a significant effect on the amount of fuel needed to reach certain orbits. The closer you are to the equator, the faster the Earth beneath you is spinning. This means you get a bigger boost from the planet’s revolution so you need less fuel to reach the required speed when you take off.
Does a UK space port actually make sense?
On top of that, it’s easier to reach orbits that are inclined at a low angle to the equator from lower latitude sites. Most communications satellites, for example, operate in a geostationary orbit directly above the equator. But, as the angle of orbit increases and moves closer to being perpendicular with the equator, it becomes easier to launch from a higher latitude. Such polar or near-
Is it a good idea?
So a British spaceport could easily offer a launch site for sub-
But do the companies planning to operate spaceplanes actually want to use the UK?
This week’s government report produced by the Civil Aviation Authority said ‘it was clear that there is a genuine appetite to begin spaceplane operations in the UK’ and ‘spaceplane operators have expressed a strong interest in launching from the UK by 2018 or earlier’. However, publicly most of these firms haven’t made such unambiguous statements citing the UK as a preferred destination for a spaceport. While it’s nice to think that Britain’s transatlantic links through the existing aerospace industry and our shared language and history make the UK an obvious place for the big US firms to come, we probably shouldn’t be so sure. Virgin Galactic has built its primary spaceport in New Mexico and although the firm’s founder is British-
There are, of course, several UK ventures hoping to launch into the spaceplane market. But while the prominent Reaction Engines has received UK government funding, its feasibility studies – notably with the European Space Agency – have focused on launches from the current satellite port in French Guiana. Indeed, you could image the politics involved in persuading ESA to move its launch site from a French base to a British one, especially when the UK has for decades refused to take part manned missions (or a similar conversation with Airbus, which is also developing a spaceplane). We asked Reaction Engines to clarify their position but hadn’t received a response by the time this article was published. Another British firm hoping to enter the market, Bristol Spaceplanes, is more publicly committed to the UK as a launch site.
Managing director David Ashford told The Engineer he definitely wanted to fly from the UK and it was as good as anywhere to do so. But, he added: ‘I’m not bothered about a spaceport. From the national business point of view it’s much more important to take the lead in building the spaceplanes we’re going to fly with… All we need is a medium-
Ashford’s point also raises a final interesting question about whether we should be pursuing this kind of venture. Prof Richard Brown, director of Strathclyde’s Centre for Future Air-
Having said that, a spaceport may help put a budding UK industry on the map: how many people currently know we even have a space sector? Even if a British launch site is more of a showpiece, sometimes prestige can take you to the Moon and back.”
Read more: http://www.theengineer.co.uk/blog/spaceport-
|THE OTHER LOCATIONS|
|WHAT IS A SPACEPORT|
|WHAT IS SPACE TOURISM?|
|SPACE PLANE DEVELOPERS|
|CORNWALL & IOS LEP|
|THE THEORETICAL SPACEPLANE DESIGN|
|RAF ST MAWGAN|
|ST MAWGAN VILLAGE|
|DOCUMENT PDF DOWNLOADS|
|SPACE AGENCY STATEMENT|