What might happen at UK Spaceports?

Tim Peake Mascot Illustration

UK spaceports will provide regular, lowcost access to space for satellite launches, but spaceport sites may offer other new opportunities.

New research into microgravity

Scientists and engineers sometimes need to test experiments in microgravity (the constant state of freefall that makes it appear as if gravity is not affecting you in orbit). This is hard to do on Earth, but it can be done on special high-altitude flights where the vehicle drops in free fall for a few seconds at a time. UK spaceports, particularly horizontal launch sites, could provide flight opportunities like this.

New companies

New companies have already been set up to work with UK spaceports. Some existing companies are adapting in order to be able to take advantage of them too. Companies like Orbex, Lockheed Martin, Raptor Aerospace and Skyrora are working on vertical launch, whilst Virgin Orbit is working on horizontal launch and Reaction Engines are working on novel propulsion systems.

There are existing companies in the UK like Clydespace and Airbus who build satellites that could be launched from UK spaceports. They will need to be able to transport their payloads to the spaceports and the spaceport operators will need to work with the launcher companies to ensure the smooth handling of payloads onto launchers. Co-ordinating the timings of when payloads arrive and are prepared for launch will be one of the main jobs of the spaceport operators. They will also need to co-ordinate launch windows and to track the launch vehicles after launch.

There are also opportunities for startup companies to come up with innovative ways of using the increasingly affordable access to space and the data gathered from this access. Catapults and incubators across the UK provide networking hubs between established businesses, academia and startups and it’s likely that ideas and collaborations will emerge from these to push the boundaries of what can be done in the UK.

Watching launches

People will definitely want to launch from UK spaceports. Spaceport operators may create viewing points and share information about launches with the public. They may also set up visitor centres. Spaceports may become destinations for tourists and space fans from the UK and all over the world.