The UK Government has confirmed widespread support for its plans to make commercial spaceflight operations in the UK a reality by 2018.
A number of possible locations for the spaceport have been shortlisted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) such as Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick and Stornoway, RAF Leuchars has also been confirmed as a potential temporary facility.
South of the border Newquay in Cornwall and Llanbedr in Wales remain in the running.
The government has ruled out two airfields at RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks for operational reasons, given their vital role in defence.
Key selection criteria has also been revealed, in particular the technical requirements governing infrastructure, airspace management and safety.
Ministers hope that the spaceport will be operational by 2018 - the facility will become a launch station for next-generation satellites and space instruments using the modern generation of horizontal take-off space launch vehicles.
It will also be an operating base for manned flights using reusable space craft such as those being developed by Virgin Galactic and XCOR.
Glasgow Prestwick Airport, the Scottish Government-owned facility, welcomed the Westminster announcement, chief executive Iain Cochrane, said: “Prestwick Airport has been a pioneer of the UK aerospace industry and aviation since its foundation in 1935. I believe Prestwick offers the perfect conditions for space launches and our extensive developed concrete airfield and 3km runway provide the facilities needed for all types of re-usable spacecraft in development.”
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities Keith Brown said: “Our main focus is on ensuring the spaceport is based in Scotland and each owner and their local partners will now decide whether to progress their own bid in light of today’s detail.
“As we’ve consistently said, we stand ready to support and offer advice to any Scottish bid - not just Prestwick.”
Meanwhile Moray MP Angus Robertson has slammed the ‘extremely bad decision by the UK Government’ to rule out Kinloss and Lossiemouth as potential spaceport locations given the fact potential user - Virgin Galactic - has previously shown significant interest in the area.
He said: “The announcement that Kinloss and Lossiemouth have both been ruled out as potential spaceport sites is an extremely bad decision by the UK Government.
“I am utterly mystified that the Ministry of Defence assessment has reached this conclusion, particularly at Kinloss, whose runway is barely used since the Nimrods were removed from service and which has acres of space that could be better used.
“Given the keen interest shown in Moray’s location and facilities by Virgin Galactic it is an inexplicable decision. Many folk in Moray, both in public agencies and in the wider community, have backed the idea of a spaceport here and have evidenced the suitability of the area for it. They will be hugely disappointed by a decision that simply defies logic.”
Work to establish the feasibility of a UK spaceport began in 2012, when the Department for Transport and UK Space Agency asked the CAA to review the operational environment and regulations to allow spaceplanes to operate.
UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Paving the way for a national spaceport is one of our biggest science achievements in this parliament. It greatly underscores the work of our space innovation and growth strategy to position the UK as a world-leader in this exciting arena that is expected to be worth up to £400 billion a year to the global economy by 2030.
“Launching satellites and operating commercial space flights from our shores was once only confined to the depths of science fiction, but with the results of this consultation we are one step closer to making this a very real ability in the near future.”
Last year, the government launched its space innovation and growth strategy 2014 to 2030, which set out the economic advantages of the UK becoming a European focal point for the pioneers of commercial spaceflights and scientific research.
The next step is for the DfT to develop a detailed technical specification of spaceport requirements, prior to inviting proposals. This is due to be published later this year.
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