New funding announced for horizontal-launch spaceport study

The government has committed £2m to support plans for small satellite launch and suborbital flight from a UK spaceplane-oriented spaceport.

spaceport
Skylon, propelled by Reaction Engines’ SABRE engine, would need a horizontal-launch spsaceport

The Launch UK development fund will allow prospective sites for spaceplane launch to apply for a share of a £2m fund, science minister Chris Skidmore announced yesterday. Several sites are already working on plans for horizontal spaceplane launch, capitalising on the development of the SABRE engine by Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines, and the proposed Skylon single-stage-to-orbit aircraft the engine would power. Sites include Newquay in Cornwall, Campbelltown and Glasgow Prestwick in Scotland, and Snowdonia in Wales.

The UK Space Agency has opened the fund, which is aimed to enable research into the market opportunities offered by horizontal space flight technologies. Organisations receiving the grant can use such research to develop an individual business case for offering horizontal launch services from the UK in the early 2020s.

“This new fund will help develop ambitious proposals to enable spaceplanes and aircraft capable of deploying satellites to operate from future UK spaceports, as part of the government’s modern industrial Strategy,” Skidmore said.

The fund is dwarfed by a £50m grant announced last July to fund the development of a vertical-launch spaceport in Scotland. However, the Launch UK fund is envisaged as helping to grow the market for small satellite launch and suborbital flight, the latter of which could be for space tourism or hypersonic long-distance travel. Individual applicants will be able to apply for a maximum share of £500,000.

“The UK Space Agency is helping prospective spaceports seize the commercial opportunities offered by the increasing demands for launch. We are working closely with the industry to ensure the UK becomes a global leader in providing access to space for small satellites and sub orbital vehicles,” commented Claire Barcham, director of commercial spaceflight at the UKSA.

Applicants can view the call for proposals here