UK Space Agency has confirmed that it is drafting regulations for Europe’s first spaceport set to be built in Cornwall.
Rocket trips will allow passengers to experience weightlessness and view the curvature of the planet and could mean 90-minute journeys to Australia.
Rules are being drawn up now to allow sub-orbital human spaceflight from the spaceports on Virgin Galactic spacecraft within the next decade.
Sub-orbital flights, which are currently undergoing tests in the US, could be operating from the base in the early 2020s, officials said.
A spaceport will also be built in the Scottish Highlands in Sutherland, which has been identified as a location for the launching of rockets carrying micro satellites.
British astronaut Tim Peake, 47, said it is ‘incredibly important’ for us to lead the way in space tourism.
‘For Britain to be the first spaceport in Europe to be able to offer that service because we have the legislation in place, because we’ve sorted out our infrastructure, that will be huge.’
Virgin will use the Cornish site to carry small satellites into orbit aboard their LauncherOne rockets, which are ferried into the atmosphere by carrier plane.
The UK Space Agency are putting forward £7.85 million ($10 million) in funding for the scheme, which will be joined by £12 million ($15 million) by Cornwall Council, subject to final approvals.
Further contributions are expected, including £0.5 million ($0.6 million) from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and £2.5 million ($3.2 million) from Virgin Orbit, the US-based space launch operator.
The collected support will enable Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit to develop the facilities needed to launch small satellites from the UK as soon as early 2020.
In the future, the spaceport could also see fee-paying space tourists take off on sub-orbital pleasure flights.
VIRGIN ORBIT LAUNCHERONE SPECS
Destination: Earth’s lower orbit
Speed: 20 times the speed of sound
Payload: Small satellites (660lb/300kg)
Launch method: Modified Virgin Atlantic aircraft
Flights begin: 2021
Weight: 57,000lb (25,800kg)
‘It puts us and the UK at the heart of the international satellite launch market, offering affordable access to space and will inspire a generation.’
Spaceport Cornwall’s development is expected will create around 150 new jobs and permit the UK to compete within the global market for deploying small satellites into Earth orbit — and industry expected to be worth £3.9 billion by 2030.
Virgin Orbit’s contribution to the development will allow the firm to operate its LauncherOne system from the spaceport.
LauncherOne is a two-stage, air-to-orbit rocket that can carry small satellite payloads weighing up to around 660 pounds (300 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit.
The rockets are carried up into the atmosphere on a carrier aircraft, dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’, a Boeing 747-400 that was converted from its former role as a passenger airliner in the Virgin Atlantic fleet.
A maiden launch of the Virgin Orbit system is expected to take place, launching from the US, sometime in late 2019.
Meanwhile, the UK Government is working with US authorities to establish the legal and technical frameworks needed to lift-off US space vehicles from launch sites on UK soil.
‘We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain — with a revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness,’ said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.
‘The Virgin Orbit team has now demonstrated every major assembly of our LauncherOne system and are within arm’s reach of bringing to the UK.’
Alongside the funds being directed towards the spaceport, the UK Space Agency is also granting around £7 million ($9 million) to University College London researchers to develop a ‘plasma analyser’ instrument to track space weather.
When launched into space, the analyser will give early warnings when the Sun ejects hazardous material and radiation into space that could potential harm astronauts, disrupt aircraft and satellite navigation and disrupt electrical infrastructure.
These alerts will give time for the protection of important assets such as power stations, and allow space operators like Virgin Orbit to adjust their launch plans accordingly.
These funding announcements come at the same time as the UK announces plans to establish a new National Space Council later this year.
Once formed, the body will provide the government with strategic guidance on all space-related issues and coordinate the UK’s space strategy.
The UK will remain in the European Space agency and is considering launching an investment programme to forge new international partnerships in the space sector.
‘As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, these announcements demonstrate the UK government’s commitment to space,’ said UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore.
‘Satellite technology is crucial to our daily lives, for observing the Earth and gathering vital climate change data, and the space industry is growing rapidly with 42,000 jobs across the country,’ he added.
THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE
Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule
Jeff Bezos’ space tourism project with Blue Origin is competing with a similar programme in development by Space X, the rocket firm founded and run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Virgin Galactic, backed by Richard Branson.
Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.
The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.
The richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos is pursuing Blue Origin with vigour as he tries to launch his ‘New Glenn’ rocket into low-Earth orbit by 2020.
Whilst Bezos is yet to leave the atmosphere of Earth, despite several successful launches, Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme has already sent the Falcon Heavy rocket into space.
On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent the rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away.
On board was a red Tesla roadster that belonged to Musk himself.
SpaceX have won several multi-million dollar contracts from Nasa as the space agency hopes to use the rockets as a fast-track for its colonisation of the red planet.
It has successfully sent a Dragon capsule to the ISS and undocked without a hitch.
NASA has already selected two astronauts who will be on-board the first manned Dragon mission.
Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic successfully conducted two test flight of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane.
The first took place in December 2018 and the latest took place on February 22nd.
The flight accelerated to over 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips,
The billionaire mogul also said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX.
Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.
The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.
It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it’s passed the 50-mile mark.
Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spaceship will then make a sub-orbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.