British space tourists could be blasting off from the UK’s own commercial ‘spaceport’ in four years’ time under ambitious Government plans being launched this week.
And Scotland is the favourite to open up the ‘final frontier’ and host the new base – provided the Scots do not vote for independence later this year.
Six of the eight potential locations to be unveiled on Tuesday are north of the border, The Mail on Sunday understands.
At a special event at the Farnborough Air Show this week, Ministers will press ahead with plans to create what they claim will be the first ‘commercial’ spaceport outside the US.
The complex, which could act as a European hub for commercial space flights planned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and XCOR Space Expeditions, should be up and running by 2018.
That means tourists could be flying into space from the UK in just four years’ time – as long as they can afford tickets which will cost tens of thousands of pounds.
The Mail on Sunday has learned that all but two of the possible sites – Newquay in Cornwall and Llanbedr airfield in North Wales – are in Scotland.
They include RAF Kinloss on the Moray Firth, Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, and Glasgow Prestwick.
Sources said the need for the base to be ‘remote’ and secure meant there was more chance it would be on a Scottish site.
Last night, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, MP for Inverness, talked up the chances of Scotland leading the UK drive to open up ‘the final frontier of commercial space travel’.
He said: ‘Scotland has a proud association with space exploration. We celebrated Neil Armstrong’s Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the moon and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency’s first satellite.’
But sources also privately made clear it was ‘highly unlikely’ the spaceport would ever be built in Scotland if it voted for independence in September’s referendum.
One said: ‘An independent Scotland would be free to bid for this sort of thing but I doubt it would have the resources to do it.’
No figure for the cost of the new spaceport has yet been given by UK officials. But the base, which will also act as a launchpad for commercial satellites, could mirror the existing £122million facility in New Mexico, USA, which boasts 10,225 sq metres of hangar space as well as a mission control complex.
Last night, UK officials said the space sector already made a ‘remarkable contribution’ to the British economy, with new figures showing it was worth £11billion and employed 34,000 people.
They unveiled plans for the country to capture 10 per cent of the global space market by 2030.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is unveiling the spaceport bid along with the UK Space Agency, hailed the space sector as a point of pride for Britain.
Mr Cable said: ‘This week we will announce the next steps for this country’s space race, outlining how we will take one giant leap towards establishing the first British spaceport by 2018 – making the UK the place for space.’
Last night, Virgin Galactic and XCOR welcomed the plan.
XCOR president Andrew Nelson, whose firm plans to offer space flights at about £58,000 a time, said: ‘It would be great if we could fly from the UK.
‘Britons are very adventurous –you guys have been the first to do many things.’
A spokesman for Virgin Galactic said it was interested in ‘operating outside of the US at some point’ but was currently ‘focused on beginning commercial operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2690094/We-lift-Britain-blast-space-UK-spaceport-outside-America-reveal-proposed-sites-six-eight-Scotland-vote-coming.html#ixzz37Oj1ycAQ
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