Could Prestwick become Scotland’s first spaceport?

IT WAS once Scotland’s window across the ocean, the base of all transatlantic flights to the United States and Canada.

Prestwick airport is in the running to become the UK's first commercial spaceport
Prestwick airport is in the running to become the UK's first commercial spaceport

Today, Prestwick is a shadow of its former self and offers services to fewer than 20 destinations in Europe.

But the airport on the Ayrshire coast could be welcoming tourists looking for a rather more adventurous trip if it is chosen as the launchpad for the UK’s first commercial space flights.

The UK Government is eager to expand the fledgling space industry and is asking for final bids from potential spaceports to be submitted by next year.

It has set an ambitious target of winning 10 per cent of the global market by 2030.

While space tourism is a longer term objective, campaigners believe Prestwick is already ideally placed to take advantage of the growing market for commercial satellite launches.

The Prestwick Spaceport Consortium was set up last year to engage with the Government’s spacesport bid process and promote the airport’s suitability as a hub for the aerospace industry.

And it’s already won backing from US business tycoon and presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Consortium boss Stuart McIntyre - whose grandfather David co-founded the airport - believes it presents a unique opportunity.

“The satellite launch and manufacturing industry - assets in space doing things like earth observation and scientific experiments - is booming worldwide,” he said in an interview with The Scotsman.

“There’s a real growth in the need to get assets into space to fuel commercial activity.”

The spaceport bid process is expected to begin in earnest in November. A final decision is not expected until September next year at the earliest.

Also in the running is Newquay airport in Cornwall and Llanbedr in Wales.

But even if Prestwick misses out on spaceport status, it could still have a bright future in the space industry as a base for the launch support industry.

“There are also very few launch systems in development - so it’s not just a question of a spaceport, where from things go into space, it’s also a question of the launch systems which take things into space,” McIntyre, 49, continued.

“Ultimately, the excitement of this project is that Prestwick fits all of the criteria necessary for a spaceport - from the weather, the runway and the existing facilities which will require almost no cost to upgrade.

“Then there’s also the industrial cluster, which could draw value to the project away from the odd space launch flight. It’s all about capturing the economic prize of the spaceport as well.

“With Prestick, Scotland and the UK has the ability to leverage significant growth from space in terms of support, engineering and manufacture for launch and operations.

“There really are no other airports or airfields - even in the US - with the ability to combine these features.”

Prestwick’s bid has already found support from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who owns the nearby Trump Turnberry golf resort.

It’s rumoured the hotel will offer deluxe packages to space tourists visiting Prestwick and encourage them to expore other destinations in Scotland.

“Trump Turnberry supports the Prestwick spaceport project primarily because of the economic and tourism benefits it would bring to the area,” said marketing director Stephen Walker.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As we’ve consistently said throughout this process, our main focus is on ensuring the spaceport is based in Scotland.

“While Glasgow Prestwick Airport is well placed to submit a strong bid, we stand ready to support and offer advice to any Scottish bid - not just Prestwick.”