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When we think of space travel, we often imagine a rocket launching vertically upwards, but the UK is also exploring horizontal launch.
A new solution
Horizontal launches involve specialised aircraft that take off horizontally. Requiring less thrust and less fuel to reach high altitudes, once the horizontal launch craft can go no higher, it will either switch to a rocket engine or deploy a rocket-powered craft that has “piggy-backed” on it in order to power the satellites into space and into orbit.
Vertical launches are still the preferred method of spaceflight for heavier payloads, but horizontal launches can be carried out more frequently using existing airport facilities which have been adapted so it’s important that the UK creates opportunities for both launch types.
For example, Newquay aerodrome in Cornwall has been proposed as a spaceport site for horizontal launch. It will use a 2.7km runway.
Will we still launch vertically?
The UK has a long history of vertical launch, including launching larger rockets from Woomera in Australia. The UK also works with other countries, utilising their launch sites and rockets for our payloads. The rockets used to launch satellites into space from the UK will be much smaller than the Russian-built Soyuz, or ESA’s Ariane 5 or Vega rockets, because the payload of the smaller satellites is lighter and requires less fuel.
Sites of vertical launches are a source of space tourism in their own right, due to the spectacle of rockets taking off and powering into space, so it is exciting that spaceports are being developed in northernmost Scotland as vertical launch sites.