Scotland in ‘strong position’ to host first UK spaceport

An artist's impression of a proposed space port at Prestwick airport. Picture: Contributed
An artist's impression of a proposed space port at Prestwick airport. Picture: Contributed
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Scotland is in ‘a strong position’ to host the first UK spaceport and to capitalise further on commercial space activity, an MP has said ahead of a Westminster debate on the sector.

Dr Philippa Whitford, whose Central Ayrshire constituency includes Prestwick aiport, said the second reading of the Space Industry Bill was another chance to highlight Scotland’s success in this sector, with 18 per cent of the UK industry based in Scotland and Glasgow now building more satellites than any other city in Europe.

The bill aims to create the regulatory framework for commercial space opportunities as the turnover of space related industries reaches £14 billion.

There are three sites under consideration as launch sites in Scotland - Machrihanish, Sutherland, and Prestwick.

A consortium, which includes US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, believe that the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland would be the ideal location in Britain from which satellites could be launched into orbit.

A detailed proposal for the facility - located between Dounreay and Cape Wrath - has been submitted to the UK Space Agency (UKSA) which has met with Highland council and Highlands and Islands Entreprise (HIE) to discuss the plans.

Other sites in Scotland have been considered for space traffic, including space tourism hubs at Prestwick in Ayrshire and Campbeltown in Argyll.

Experts believe however that launching satellites for the military, government or private industry may be the quickest and most cost-effective way of advancing the UK’s space ambitions.

READ MORE: Remote Highland peninsula earmarked for satellite launchpad

Dr Whitford said that with more convenient access to launch capabilities, the industry could easily grow to meet the UK government’s ambition of reaching £40 billion turnover by 2030.

“More than 100 private and public organisations have created almost 7,000 jobs in this industry and are contributing more than £130m to the Scottish economy, and in the last two years Glasgow has built more satellites than any other city in Europe,” she said.

“This is a flourishing and vital new industry in Scotland, which is home to 18% of jobs in the UK space industry.

“When I first joined the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Space Committee, Prestwick was considered a rank outsider but with its long runway, fog free weather, good transport connections and local aerospace cluster, Prestwick is now one of the leading contenders to be the first Spaceport in the UK.

“Launches are currently carried out from Kazakhstan, so having easy launch access from a Spaceport in Scotland would benefit not just Scotland but the commercial satellite industry right across the UK.

“The bill contains little that could be seen as contentious but there are issues, such as liability, to be considered as Space access moves from being the domain of major states, such as the US and Russia, to being a commercial enterprise. I am therefore looking forward to a constructive debate with all parties looking to facilitate the development of a sound legislative basis for the future of the space industry.”