VIRGIN GALACTIC. XCOR Airspace. Reaction Engines. Airbus. These are only the most recognisable names among a growing number of companies on the frontier of a new space race.
Unlike the original space race, which involved large, resource-rich states competing for the glory of getting there first, this one is private and commercial, focusing on space tourism, lower cost satellites and the development of space access.
Despite the lowest published price for a trip into space being $95,000 (£56,000) with XCOR, hundreds of people have already signed up for it and demand for satellite launches is expected to grow as spaceplane technology evolves.
To ensure the UK captures a share of these markets, which it estimates could be worth up to £40 billion and employ as many as 100,000 people by 2030, the government wants to create the first spaceport in the UK by 2018 and foster collaboration with the likes of Spaceport America, Spaceport Sweden and Spaceport Indiana. Ministers believe having a spaceport would make the UK a very attractive location in Europe for spaceplane operators and potentially lead to direct technology spillovers.
The evidence is compelling – existing spaceports demonstrate rapid and local development of high technology businesses and training services. Further down the line, a spaceport could provide opportunities for highly advanced manufacturing. Last month, the government selected eight civil and military aerodromes across the country with the clear potential to take on this prestigious mantle.
It is gratifying for us here in Moray Speyside that two of the sites identified were RAF Lossiemouth and the former RAF Kinloss base, which is now Kinloss Army Barracks. In total, six of the eight were in Scotland.
The criteria for the final selection, to be made next spring, are that the site must:
• Be located away from densely populated areas and congested airspace, allowing for segregated airspace so spaceflights can be managed safely.
• Have good meteorological conditions (low crosswinds and a high number of days with little or no cloud cover).
• Be accessible via good transport links (for space tourists and component parts).
• Possess a runway of at least 3,000m or one capable of being extended to that length.
We believe that with our fabulous weather, uncongested airspace, skilled workforce and economic dynamism, Moray Speyside is an extremely credible contender.
As consultations take place, we will be emphasising the benefits from locating here – skills base, accessibility, location and facilities. Given the tight timetable, it is worth noting the aviation infrastructure at Kinloss is modern, with widened, hardened taxiways. The runway has been maintained to allow its use by RAF Lossiemouth. The potential exists to extend the runway.
Our initial analysis of existing spaceports would suggest the space industry will require demanding ground handling facilities. Kinloss has the hard standings and hangar space to complement large and heavy aircraft ground manoeuvres and space industry support. In addition, there are a number of ex-aviation technicians who commute to Aberdeen for the oil and gas industry.
As well as our aviation experience, we are accustomed to playing a key role in significant global industries such as oil and gas and whisky.
We are now home to well-established global, hi-tech businesses such as Accunostics and ATOS. Moray Speyside is a very positive place and our population growth is the fastest of any local authority area in Scotland. Among the key objectives of the MEP, whose partners include Moray Council, HIE, the Moray Strategic Business Forum, Moray Chamber of Commerce and Moray College UHI, is diversifying the region’s economy.
The advent of a spaceport would be a fantastic business opportunity for Moray Speyside and everyone will be working tremendously hard to persuade the government to locate it here.
• John Cowe is chairman of the Moray Economic Partnership