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Space, the final frontier in independence debate

A spaceport in the UK would be the first outside the US, where craft such as the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer are currently based. Picture: AP

A spaceport in the UK would be the first outside the US, where craft such as the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer are currently based. Picture: AP

  • by KEVAN CHRISTIE
 

SCOTLAND could host the UK’s first dedicated base for space-planes, according to new Westminster plans.

Ministers want to establish, by 2018, the UK Spaceport – the first of its kind outside of the US.

Eight aerodromes have been shortlisted and Scotland has six of the potential locations.

However, the Scottish Government said only independence would lead to a greater development of the country’s space industry.

For ministers and the space industry, the major interest in a UK spaceport is as a facility to enable satellite launches and they hope it would also become a centre for the new tourism initiatives from specialist operators such as Virgin Galactic and XCor.

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Ahead of the announcement at this week’s Farnborough Airshow, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander hinted that Scotland could become a key player in the UK Government’s future plans for developing commercial space travel.

He said: “I am delighted the [Westminster] government is pushing forward with its ambitious plans to open a spaceport in the UK by 2018. Spaceports will be key to us opening up the final frontier of commercial space travel.

“Scotland has a proud association with space exploration. We celebrated Neil Armstrong’s Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the Moon and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency’s first satellite.

“The UK space industry is one of our great success stories and I am sure there will be a role for Scotland to play in the future.”

News of the plan was welcomed by the Scottish Government, but the SNP said Scotland’s growing space industry would be strengthened by a Yes vote on 18 September.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The space sector offers huge economic potential for Scottish companies, indeed, the first Scottish satellite, UKube-1, built by Clyde Space in Glasgow, successfully launched on 8 July.

“That same day, a report published by Dr Malcolm Macdonald from Strathclyde Space Institute at Strathclyde University found that independence could be worth £15 million to £20m a year in the medium term and as much as £100m a year in the longer term to the space sector industry.”

She added: “Scotland is proving that it has the expertise to attract and support such a specialised, global industry and, as such, an independent Scotland will be an attractive option for spaceport pioneers.”

The news of a potential Scottish spaceport was trending on Twitter yesterday, with comments including “#space port in #scotland before 2020 they say... I’ll believe that when I see it, but good luck to them!”

There was also “a month before the referendum it turns out Scotland’s going to get a space port.#BeamMeUpScotty #WhatAStunningCoincidence”.

It’s believed Spaceplane systems may need runway lengths of 3,000 metres.

The UKube-1 satellite built by Clyde Space successfully launched on a test flight from Kazakhstan. It was the first ever spacecraft to be fully assembled in Scotland.

Figures from the government show that the space sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK.

The latest data indicates that it is now generating more than £11 billion for the economy every year, and employs 34,000 people – an increase of almost 9 per cent on employment figures from 2011.

Ministers hope to capitalise on this growth and capture 10 per cent of the global space market by 2030, which could mean the creation of 100,000 additional jobs.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Our world-leading and ambitious space sector is thriving. This week we will announce the next steps for this country’s space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018, making the UK the place for space.”

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