The UK is bound for a seat in the next space race, the transport secretary has said today, as the government preps for Virgin’s commercial Orbit mission – the UK’s first space-bound flight.
The National Space Agency (NSA) confirmed on Monday that spaceflights will soon be a reality as the government has funded spaceports that are expected to be ready for use next summer.
“The Virgin Orbit mission will be a major first – the start of satellite launches from UK soil. Great Britain will be well and truly back in the space launch business and on the way to capturing this government’s first strategic goal on the high frontier: a 10 per cent market share of the global space business by 2030,” minister Grant Shapps wrote in a comment piece in The Telegraph today.
The spaceports will also facilitate satellite launches, to improve data and communications but will also bolster satellite navigation and observation.
Similarly, to commercial airlines, space is opening as a market for commercial giants like Virgin.
“As rocket and satellite technology becomes more compact and affordable, private enterprise is getting in on the act,” Shapps continued. “This country is well-positioned to reap the benefits from a global sector expected to be worth £400bn per year by 2030.”
The first spaceport in Cornwall, legislation for which was proposed just two weeks before the G7 summit based in the region, is set to propel commercial spaceflight technologies, according to the NSA.
The space hubs will not stop in Cornwall, Shapps added, confirming that the government is committed to new vertical-launch operations in the Shetlands and Sutherland in Scotland and Snowdonia in Wales.
The new regulations Shapps’ issued this week on spaceports will allow for the launching of satellites from UK territory for the first time, and companies eyeing the venture can apply for licences from this summer, he said.
“The regulations are the most flexible in the world, allowing firms to meet safety and environmental requirements in the ways they think best.
“Sometime next year, we expect that a giant Boeing 747 will take off from Newquay in Cornwall, with a rocket strapped to its inner port wing. It will then soar out into the Atlantic to a launch altitude of some 40,000 feet and release its payload.
“As it banks away, the two-stage rocket will ignite, accelerating to “escape velocity” before delivering an array of mini-satellites into low-Earth orbit.”
UK engineers are currently working on a project for a Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE).
The SABRE project could make most conventional single-use rocket launchers obsolete, according to the transport secretary.
“London to Sydney would take two hours. There’s a problem, though: engines operating at Mach 5 melt. So, our engineers have come up with a unique cooling system which can lower the temperature of the air entering the engine from more than 1,000 Celsius to ambient temperatures within 1/100th of a second.”
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