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Access to space - what will the UK need in the future?

5 Mar 2013


UK industrial team looking at the UK's future needs for launch systems and facilities.


The question of whether the UK should have its own spaceport, launch vehicles and spacecraft is about to be considered by the UK Space Agency and members of the UK’s space industry.

UKLaunch, a six-month 'customer-driven' economic study, funded in partnership between industry and the Agency, will examine whether there is a viable business case for a UK launch infrastructure and will take both a short term (up to 5 years) and longer term (20-30 year) look at the launch market, taking account of both UK and UK-partner satellite capabilities. It will address questions such as whether there is a need for an indigenous small satellite launch service and answer the question as to whether UK capabilities and market needs can be matched to support the growth agenda.

Options for UK launch systems may include adapting existing overseas vehicles to be launched from a remote UK location or considering whether there is a business case for developing a small UK launch vehicle. UK technology readiness for such projects is also being assessed. Finally, the facility requirements for sub-orbital space tourism vehicles are also being considered. In the longer term, the viability of a spaceport as a hub to facilitate a range of launch, R& D and propulsion test activities is being examined.

The 6-month study, funded under the SpaceCITI element of the National Space Technology Programme (NSTP), involves partners from the small satellite and nascent launch community plus consultants with experience in a range of launch vehicles and the economics of capital facilities, including SSTL, Reaction Engines, London Economics and Newton Launch Systems. The work is also coordinating with the Dept for Transportation, the Space IGS (Innovation and Growth Strategy) and the National Space Technology Strategy.

The SpaceCITI (Space Collaborative Innovation Team Initiative) brings together different organisations to tackle technical and policy challenges facing the future of the UK space sector. The Agency's job is to help the UK space services and manufacturing sector continue its strong growth in the coming years. The National Space Technology Programme is vital to helping achieve this goal.

The intended output of UKLaunch will be a business plan that will also support a DfT and CAA study into potential locations and regulatory support for UK satellite and sub-orbital launch activities. A UK Spaceport has the potential to significantly stimulate growth in the UK, from international launch service sales, by growing the range of high value space activities the UK offers and by acting as a local economic catalyst.

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