Business case for UK Spaceports

Tim Peake Mascot Illustration

As technology evolves and reduces the cost of access to space, there is an exciting opportunity for the UK to thrive in the new space age.

Space sector growth is down to business

Government’s spaceflight programme, LaunchUK, aims to establish commercial spaceflight from the UK and grow these new UK markets for small satellite launch and suborbital spaceflight. This will support the Government’s aim of growing the UK’s global market share of the space sector by 10% by 2030.

Historically, space exploration and satellite usage have been led by national governments. Today, the sector is growing because of investors convinced by the business case for the space industry, such as the build or operation of spacecraft or opportunities for using the data collected by earth observation satellites for commercial uses.

Smaller satellites, smaller launchers

The European Space Agency’s 2002 trailblazing Earth observation satellite, Envisat, was the size of a bus and weighed over 8 tonnes. Recently, technology in satellites has become increasingly smaller, meaning that most satellites are now small satellites (smallsats) and microsatellites. CubeSats are just 10cm x 10cm x 10cm and weigh not much more than a kilogram. These lighter payloads require less fuel and have smaller rocket requirements, all resulting in less expense for launching smaller satellites.

UK Spaceports for satellite launch

When UK companies use foreign launch sites, they must transport their payloads to these destinations, costing money and increasing the overall satellite cost. It also puts the satellite and its instruments at risk of damage during transportation. Having launch sites in the UK will greatly reduce this cost and risk, meaning UK space businesses can reduce their running costs, becoming more profitable.

Having smaller and less expensive satellites also means that you can make more of them more often. This is only worth doing if there is a way to get them to space regularly and reliably. Horizonal launches from UK spaceports will support regular, easy access to space for UK companies, allowing new satellite technology to be launched quickly and keeping satellite networks up-to-date.

Supporting the global space sector

UK spaceports won’t just be available for UK companies. They’ll also be able to sell launch opportunities to international companies and other national governments that don’t have their own access to space. This will bring overseas income to the UK and encourage international collaboration with other countries