Americans plough millions into the British space race

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Out of this world: An Orbex rocket and a satellite. Cash has started to flow into space firms after a spaceport in the Scottish Highlands was announced


Americans plough millions into the British space race as spaceport in the Scottish Highlands is announced

Matt Oliver For The Daily Mail

Space firms have hailed an investment boom as they prepare to launch the first satellites from UK soil.

Industry figures say cash has started to flow in after a spaceport in the Scottish Highlands was announced. It is one of several programmes aimed at making Britain a world-leading hub for low-orbit launches, adding to its already-strong reputation for building and managing satellites.

The site in the A’ Mhoine peninsula will be used to send satellites into space for a range of uses such as crop monitoring.

Out of this world: An Orbex rocket and a satellite. Cash has started to flow into space firms after a spaceport in the Scottish Highlands was announced

Out of this world: An Orbex rocket and a satellite. Cash has started to flow into space firms after a spaceport in the Scottish Highlands was announced

US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and the UK’s Orbex have been confirmed as the first two companies to have bases there, with both preparing launch systems that will carry payloads for private and public clients. 

Lockheed is developing a system that could deploy six small satellites at a time. Meanwhile, Orbex has raised about £30million overall to develop a launch system that will use eco-friendly fuel. 

Chief executive Chris Larmour said the company had held talks with potential foreign customers such as the German government since his firm’s role at the spaceport was revealed. He added: ‘We have all the ingredients we need to be really successful.’

Larmour predicted the spaceport’s construction would prompt satellite firms to relocate to Britain to be closer to launch facilities.

Three other spaceports are planned in Cornwall, Glasgow and North Wales, which will offer conventional runways. Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will launch rockets using a modified jet liner, while the start-up Reaction Engines has built an aircraft that becomes a rocket after taking off.

At the moment, the UK manufactures more than 40 per cent of the world’s small satellites, more than anywhere else, and also has several cutting-edge facilities for managing them. 

It commands about 6.5 per cent, or about £20billion, of the £300billion global space economy, and there are hopes this could rise to £77billion by 2030.

But experts say the ability to launch rockets is something the country has lacked.

Stuart Martin, of the Satellite Applications Catapult, which works with space start-ups, said there was demand for more launches, adding: ‘If we get all those things – manufacturing, services and launches – all in one place in the UK, then the opportunities will be massive.’

Philip Davies, of the Royal Aeronautical Society, said: ‘Being able to launch from Scotland will be much easier for European companies – it will mean you won’t have to send a team off to Kazakhstan for a month. It will make the UK an obvious place to invest in satellite work.’

 

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