May 18 2012
Britain should have its own spaceport where satellites and intrepid travellers could be blasted into orbit, according to business leaders.
Such a move would help the successful British space industry "really lift off", the Institute of Directors (IoD) has said.
Suitable locations for a spaceport could be found in Scotland, Northern Ireland or South West England, it added.
One possibility suggested was a dual purpose air and spaceport on a man-made island in the Severn Estuary. Others included lengthening the runway at an RAF base in Scotland or Northern Ireland - for instance, RAF Lossiemouth.
The proposals are set out in a new IoD report, Space - Britain's New Infrastructure Frontier, which catalogues the rapid growth of Britain's £8 billion space sector.
The space industry in the UK, which is largely satellite based, supports 85,000 jobs and has more than doubled in size in the last decade. By 2020, it is expected to employ 100,000 people. But it could go much further, according to the IoD. The report highlights the "private sector space revolution" ushered in by the end of the American space agency Nasa's space shuttle programme.
A host of companies were now competing to provide space taxi services and the cost of getting cargo into orbit was lowering rapidly. The Falcon 9 vehicle from SpaceX, for example, had reduced the cost per kilo of reaching low earth orbit to just over £3,146, compared with between £11,325 and £37,750 for the space shuttle.
SpaceX already had contracts with Nasa worth more than four billion US dollars (£2.5 billion) to launch cargo to the International Space Station and deliver satellites into orbit.
"Globally, the squeeze on public space agencies such as Nasa is leading to a private sector space revolution, with steep cuts in the cost of getting cargo into orbit," said the IoD. "A massive opportunity beckons for the UK, should we choose to understand and embrace it. A few regulatory and infrastructure developments, including licensing a spaceport, would help the (British) space sector really lift off," the report added.
Critical requirements for a spaceport were a long runway, an isolated and thinly populated location, and an undisturbed high altitude air corridor.