Prestwick Spaceport partners with Astraius on horizontal launch tech

Posted on 22 September, 2021 by Advance 

Prestwick Spaceport has secured a launch partner for its spaceport development in a landmark deal that will boost Scotland’s space industry ambitions and create an important strategic asset for the UK.


A C-17 cargo aircraft which will carry and launch the Astraius rocket.
Courtesy Astraius

The Spaceport, represented by Glasgow Prestwick Airport and South Ayrshire Council, yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Astraius, the UK based, commercially operated horizontal ‘air launch’ company. The organisations will collaborate closely alongside other key project partners, including Scottish and UK governments, to prepare for the orbital launch of small satellites from 2023.

The agreement brings together proven horizontal launch technology with a world-class spaceport development in response to a growing demand from satellite customers around the globe. Both organisations have, until now, been focused on technology and infrastructure developments, but yesterday marks the beginning of an ongoing period of stakeholder engagement, with a strong focus on the supportive local community.

The design, infrastructure and launch capabilities at Prestwick Spaceport will also represent an important strategic asset for the UK. Prestwick has particularly strong transport links, a more than favourable climate for regular launches and a strong heritage of innovation and engineering expertise. The spaceport forms a key part of a growing ecosystem of companies and talent that will act as a catalyst to stimulate economic activity around space, boosted by multi-million pound Ayrshire Growth Deal funding.

The MoU was warmly welcomed by UK and Scottish Government representatives. Ian Annett, UK Space Agency Deputy CEO stated: “This partnership declaration is a sign of great confidence in the long-term vision for Prestwick, which will undoubtedly play a central role in Scotland's contribution to the UK Space Sector.

“Harnessing the opportunities around commercial spaceflight will feed into our National Space Strategy and the Government’s agenda to level up the UK, and Global Britain – creating high skilled jobs and local opportunities around UK spaceports."

On the partnership, Mick O’Connor, Programme Director at Prestwick Spaceport, said: “Our launch partner announcement is the latest in a series of positive developments for the spaceport. With significant funding secured and state of the art aerospace capability on our doorstep, Prestwick is on the path to ensuring orbital launch from Europe becomes a reality.”

Commercial Director at Glasgow Prestwick Airport, Zoe Kilpatrick, added: “Glasgow Prestwick Airport is perfectly positioned to become a leading provider of space launch services after being at the forefront of aviation and aerospace for almost 100 years.”

Astraius are set to provide an innovative, already proven launch solution with the necessary technology and expertise to carry out satellite launch operations, including the rare ability to perform multiple same day launches when required. The company, which already has agreements in place with target customers, has a presence in both the UK and US and is therefore expected to benefit from the 2020 US-UK Technology Safeguards Agreement treaty, a legally binding agreement between the UK and US governments.

Astraius Chairman, Sir George Zambellas, explained: “A revolution in space exploration and technology is underway. Satellites are transforming communication, knowledge sharing and helping to monitor the environment, whilst powering the global economy. Astraius exists to provide a dependable, affordable and agile means of launching the world’s next generation of small satellites. In joining with Prestwick Spaceport, we now have the partner that will allow us to make this vision a reality.”

Astraius CEO, Kevin Seymour, said: “This landmark agreement is both strategically and commercially significant. In partnering with Prestwick, we will be able to deliver on our promise to the many satellite customers looking for launch certainty. This is an important milestone for both Astraius and Prestwick Spaceport and will add to the development of a vibrant space sector for Scotland and the UK.”


(left to right) Mick O'Connor, Kevin Seymour, Zoe Kilpatrick and Cllr Peter Henderson.
Courtesy Prestwick Spaceport

Yesterday’s announcement is the latest in a long list of good news stories for the UK’s space sector, including the passing of legislation in July this year that is set to support safe, sustainable spaceflight activities to drive research, innovation and entrepreneurship for the UK, as part of the Space Industry Act 2018. The city of Glasgow in Scotland already manufactures more small satellites than anywhere in the world outside of California, while Edinburgh has positioned itself as the space data capital of Europe, leading on the analysis of space derived data to bring a range of benefits to a variety of sectors, the environment and wider society.

South Ayrshire Council is a key partner in the development of Prestwick Spaceport, having secured £80m of investment for the existing Prestwick Aerospace hub - Scotland’s largest - as part of the wider £250m Ayrshire Growth Deal funding. The £80 million funding will be invested in infrastructure and is expected to create up to 4,000 new high-quality jobs.

UK Government Minister for Scotland, Iain Stewart said, "This is a giant leap for Prestwick and the UK to delivering a horizontal launch spaceport and boosting our growing space industries.

"Through the Ayrshire Growth Deal the UK Government is investing £32 million in the aerospace and space programme, which is bringing new jobs and businesses to the area. Across Scotland we are investing more than £1.5 billion in region deals, helping communities to build back better from the pandemic."

Scotland’s Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise Ivan McKee stated, “The Memorandum of Understanding with Astraius as a launch partner is great news for the Prestwick Spaceport and signifies a major step towards bringing horizontal launch capability to Scotland.

“Our ambition is for Scotland to be Europe’s leading space nation and to have a £4 billion share of the global space market by 2030, whilst developing launch capability – both vertical and horizontal – to serve small satellite producers. The announcement today brings us a step closer to achieving our ambition and proves once again the versatility and dynamism of the Scottish space sector.”

Prestwick Spaceport is the latest addition to a long-established and thriving aerospace hub and will become the flagship brand of the Prestwick AeroSpace proposition, facilitating the launch of small satellites and providing cost-effective access to low earth orbit and microgravity environments for the first time in Europe.

Prestwick’s central location with road, rail and sea connections provide advantages and opportunities via established space hubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands, not to mention the international connectivity afforded by the airport.

Supported by funding through the Ayrshire Growth Deal, the spaceport will play an important role in the provision up to 4,000 local aerospace jobs for the Scottish space sector, whilst fostering the skills needed to keep the UK at the forefront of NewSpace for years to come.

Astraius has brought together a formidable international team with experience in commercial space launch and operations. The demand for satellite launches is expected to expand hugely with more than 17,000 launches planned over the next 10 years. Astraius will provide a dependable, affordable and low-cost option for a global market predicted to exceed $400bn in coming years. Astraius is headquartered in the UK, with executive offices in Washington DC and operational locations in Florida. Their new, state of the art, launch facilities will be based at Prestwick Spaceport.

Founded in the 1920s, Glasgow Prestwick Airport has been at the forefront of aviation and aerospace for almost 100 years. The airport was purchased by the Scottish Government in November 2013 to protect jobs and safeguard a strategic infrastructure asset. The airport operates as a commercial business at an arm’s length from the Government. Prestwick Spaceport will form part of the GPA aerodrome and will be operated by the Airport.