Sunday, June 1, 2014

SKYLON: Impoverished UK dreams of having a 'new' Spaceport on recycled aerodromes

Skylon, a concept space plane from Reaction Engines Ltd., is an entirely reusable single stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, based on revolutionary engine technology.

Credit: Adrian Mann

The UK, impoverished and technically challenged by a floundering coalition government, is hoping it could re-badge a derelict air force base as a spaceport by 2018.

Pending the usual convoluted administrative approach of a regulatory report to be published July 2014 and a technical feasibility study that is underway with the UK's National Space Technology Programme (NSTP), it may be possible that the country could convert an aging air base and claim that it hosts a spaceport, within the next five years.

A new National Space Flight Coordination Group, chaired by the UK's financially shackled Space Agency, will oversee these reports and the future work for this UK 'spaceport.'

UK Government officials made a political statement saying that they hoped this will be the start of commercial spaceflight for the country.

The politically appointed steering group and the 2018 date were announced with the publication of the "UK Government Response to the U.K. Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014-2030," published in November 2013 by friends in the UK aerospace industry.

This publication optimistically claims the UK's space sector could be worth 40 billion GBPs ($67 billion) by 2030. The industry is allegedly worth 9 billion GBP ($15 billion) today but most of it is sub-contracted to European (EADS) and US (Lockheed, Boeing, etc) corporations. Very little of the UK's aerospace industry is 'homegrown.'

"This [National Space Flight Coordination] group reports to [government] ministers," the government's response says.

"Its cross-cutting nature is recognition of the scale of the challenge inherent in identifying, approving and building a U.K. spaceport and in supporting all the necessary innovation and technology that it would require."

These are not the first attempts at reports and studies that the U.K. government has undertaken in its quest to appear to have a viable spaceport, it is merely the first time the government has set a date for the creation of such a facility.

In 2009, the British National Space Centre (BNSC), which preceded the U.K. Space Agency created in 2010, funded a study into spaceport candidate locations. That study concluded that Lossiemouth in Scotland would be the best site.

Located in northern Scotland, Lossiemouth is on the coast of the North Sea and has a recently-closed Royal Air Force base with a runway suitable for the types of launch systems that favour, UK Tax exile, billionaire and hedonist, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

The Scottish people have an excellent and long history of engineering and are renowned as innovative, motivated and dedicated engineers and scientists, but they are both politically and physically a long way from the decisions being made in London, by the London-based government, which favour developments that will boost its flagging popularity with voters in the South of England.

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