UK Spaceports Alliance established

Posted on 7 October, 2020 by Advance 

The Scottish Space Leadership Council announced the formation of the Spaceports Alliance last month, a sectoral Working Group which aims to represent the common interests of the UK Spaceport community, to facilitate rapid progress in developing the national infrastructure for - and international promotion of - the country’s space launch capabilities.

Image by Dotted Yeti / Copyright Shutterstock

A concordat has been signed by three vertical rocket launch sites – Shetland Space Centre Space Hub Sutherland, and Spaceport 1, Western Isles – along with two that plan to operate plane based, horizontal launches – Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport, and Machrihanish Airbase Community Company, Argyll.

Whilst the Alliance currently comprises the Scottish Spaceport sites, dialogue with Spaceport Cornwall is at an advanced stage and the Alliance is keen to include Wales’s Spaceport community as well, to adopt and promote a collaborative UK approach to the development and provision of launch services to the international space market.

It is believed that the group could play a pivotal role in the UK’s move towards orbital launch capability, a key catalyst for driving economic growth in the market. The UK launch sector is key to enabling the burgeoning small satellite industry where Scotland is a market leader, as well as providing the catalyst for growth in other space business areas such as Low Gravity Manufacturing, Orbital Energy Harvesting and Space Tourism.

The Alliance will develop a joint position for discussions with Government agencies to facilitate progress on key issues such as regulation and governance, insurance and international collaborations.

The Spaceport Alliance is also collaborating to develop a brand to send a common message to the World that Scotland and the UK are open for Space business and poised to lead the way in Europe, through a fully integrated Commercial Space capability from Satellite design and manufacture to Launch, platforms, facilities and management to data and information services. The Alliance seeks to promote and champion the importance of the sector’s green credentials, to highlight alignment and compliance with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation Ivan McKee commented: “I am delighted that the spaceports across Scotland have come together under the banner of the Scottish Space Leadership Council to form the Spaceport Alliance in what is an extremely exciting time for the emerging space sector globally.

“Our ambition is to capture the substantial economic benefits of the emerging global space sector by ensuring Scotland becomes the first country in Europe to provide an end-to-end solution for small satellite manufacture, launch and innovation in satellite data analysis, including critical earth observation and environmental data.

“The space sector in Scotland also has a key role to play in tackling climate change. Having the ability to launch satellites here in Scotland will enable the expansion and enhancement of earth observation and environmental data giving Scotland a real and meaningful contribution to efforts to tackle the climate emergency and enhance the Green Recovery as set out in our Programme for Government.”

A recent set of range focused cross-industry workshops provided a practical platform to demonstrate the effectiveness of collaboration in this area at a crucial time for the launch sector, with secondary legislation around spaceflight currently going through a process of consultation as part of the Space Industry Act 2018. The workshops brought together industry and academia from across the UK and have resulted in a series of workstreams aimed at delivering key sectoral themes and observations in response to government consultation around the legislation and a common approach to ensuring the safety of UK launch services.

With the UK Space Agency determined to capitalise on the UK’s geographical advantage in respect of its ability to provide small satellite launch to popular, low-earth orbits that are important for monitoring environmental change, the establishment of UK National launch capability is an important element in enabling the country’s rapidly emerging commercial space sector to reach its potential. Affordable, responsive access to orbit is a common issue for the rapidly growing European space market.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO for Project Delivery at the UK Space Agency, stated: “The UK Space Agency and the new Spaceports Alliance are working in lockstep towards a common goal – make the UK the leading destination for space launch in Europe.

“We want each spaceport to provide a range of services that complements those available at other spaceport sites; meeting the myriad demands from companies for satellite launches and sub-orbital flights. Spaceports Alliance will help us realise this ambition and build on our space sector’s proud history of collaboration.”

The UK has seen its status as a space nation evolve significantly in recent years. The country already produces more small satellites than anywhere in the world outside of the USA through firms like Surrey Satellites (SSTL), Spire Global and AAC Clyde Space, whilst also being home to a vibrant space data environment through the University of Edinburgh and companies such as Global Surface Intelligence, Ecometrica, Astrosat, Goonhilly and 4EarthIntelligence. Moreover, with local launch developers making progress with sustainable propellants, a diverse knowledge base being fostered in its world class universities and the Scottish Space Leadership Council acting to provide UK industry co-ordination and support for a wide range of opportunities and challenges, the country is positioning itself at the forefront of the highly lucrative commercial space market.

John Innes, Chair of the Scottish Space Leadership Council said: “The formation of the Spaceport Alliance is a major step forward in the development of a common, collaborative sectoral approach to the development of the UK Space Sector. SSLC has been advocating a collegiate sectoral approach to addressing the broad range of common issues which the sector as a whole needs to solve to enable everyone to grow and secure the significant economic opportunities space can offer to UK industry. SSLC is delighted to sponsor and chair this initiative.”

The international race to build launch capability ahead of other global competitors is very much underway. The spaceports alliance is expected to facilitate an inclusive, collaborative approach in order to navigate the sector through the challenges and opportunities posed by the prospect of UK launch. The next official meeting of the new alliance is due to take place during September.

Mick O’Connor, Prestwick Spaceport Programme Director commented: “We have big ambitions for Prestwick as a launch location for various spacecraft types and as UK’s premier AeroSpace hub. Formation of the Spaceport Alliance is a significant step forward for Scotland’s spaceflight industry, and together with the SSLC and colleagues from across every aspect of space will help establish the UK as the European space powerhouse."

Roy Kirk, Project Director at Space Hub Sutherland, stated: “The space opportunity for Scotland and the UK is considerable. Launch capability will not only create local employment, it will support growth in a range of businesses, from satellite and launch vehicle manufacturers to supply chain companies and the research institutions that will use data gathered from satellites."

The new alliance provides a very welcome forum for all of us involved in developing spaceports in Scotland to share information and knowledge that will benefit our own projects and accelerate progress for the sector as a whole.”

Frank Strang, CEO of the Shetland Space Centre commented “We are delighted to be working together with the SSLC and the other Spaceports to showcase the Scottish and UK Space Industry to the World and have agreed to share resource and expertise as and when appropriate.

"Recent speculation about a 'Space Race' between UK launch sites has got it wrong. The race is not within the UK it is between the UK and the rest of Europe and we recognise that we have to work together and collaboratively to establish the UK as a leader not only in Launch, but across the Space sector as a whole.

"This SSLC initiative is pulling us together at exactly the right time and for the right reasons.”

Mark Roberts, Programme Director for Spaceport 1 said: “This Alliance is excellent news for the Space industry in the UK, and reflects the increasing expectation of progress in the coming months and years across the UK launch community. Above all, our common purpose is commercial success for all. We have much to share and learn together and Spaceport 1 looks forward to playing our part in promoting a globally strong launch industry in and for the UK."

Cameron McNair, Chairman of MACC (owner of Machrihanish Airbase) said: “For the UK to become a space fairing nation again, to compete in the current and future global market place and to deliver on the ambition of securing 10% of the global space market by 2030, launch sites must work together. We are delighted to sign up to this concordat and to be part of the SSLC.”

The SSLC is a voluntary, cross-sectoral representative organisation with membership open to all across the UK space industry sector and representation from across government and its agencies welcomed. Set up in 2017, it provides a platform for industry, academia and government to work collaboratively, promote the sector and take a united approach to shared challenges.