With Richard Branson "90 percent sure" that he and his family will become the first space tourists later this year aboard Virgin Galactic, the dawn of a new age commercial industry is quickly approaching - and the UK is eager to be involved.
In a statement yesterday, UK science minister David Willett announced that the government is working with experts in space, defence, business and transport to identify a suitable base for a national spaceport. The launch site would not only offer a means to launch satellites via unmanned rockets, but also position the UK to be a player in the nascent commercial space tourism industry.
"Space industries already support 95,000 full time jobs and generate £9.1bn for the economy each year, and our response to the Growth Action Plan shows our commitment to secure its future growth and realise ambitions to develop a viable UK space port for commercial space flight," said Willett.
Branson's Virgin Galactic is aiming to launch its first commercial space flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Back in Februrary, the company also announced plans to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi within the next two years.
"It’s all very exciting on a number of levels," Branson said of the UAE spaceport. "We can have people in space, we can put a whole array of satellites in space, which would have a big effect on global telecommunications."
Britain's newly released "National Space Security Policy" describes a national spaceport as not only good for business and science, but also national security.
"The National Space Security Policy sets out a coherent approach to the UK’s space security interests and outlines measures to make the United Kingdom more resilient to the risk of disruption to space services and capabilities, enhance our national security interests through space, promote a safe and more secure space environment and enable industry and academia to exploit science and grasp commercial opportunities."
The government estimates the British space industry could be worth nearly $70 billion by 2030.
Willett says the government is currently examining remote sites for a future spaceport - with areas low in commercial air traffic and close to the sea the most attractive.
"We’re rediscovering our great tradition of developing space vehicles and having a spaceport where we can launch will be part of that long term plan," he said.
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