Lockheed Martin animation of UK space launch
Lockheed-Martin-UK-Spaceflight-Programme-Video-720p - .MP4 file.
The UK’s first spaceport, dedicated to vertical launch vehicles, is to be sited on a boggy peninsula in the north of Scotland.
A long-awaited announcement on the location of a British spaceport states that a facility for vertical launch vehicles – in other words, rockets – is to be built on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland, on Scotland’s north coast. At the opening of Farnborough Airshow, business secretary Greg Clark announced that Lockheed Martin will be closely involved in the development of the site.
The government is awarding the Highlands and Islands Development Agency £2.5 million towards developing the Sutherland site, while a further £2 million from a £50 million UK spaceflight programme will go towards developing proposed horizontal launch sites in Cornwall, Prestwick and Snowdonia. Additional grants will be awarded during Farnborough to help commercial operators develop more strategies for Sutherland.
“As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy,” said Clark. “The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites.” The first launches from the site could be in the 2020s.
The announcement builds on the UK’s proven capacity in developing and building small satellites, Clark added. Commenting on this, Will Whitehorn, non-executive chairman of Scottish satellite builder ClydeSpace, said “From designing and building the very first satellite in Scotland, Clyde Space has grown and become a front runner in small-satellite manufacturing. Having a spaceport located in Scotland will bring about a whole host of commercial advantages and not only to our operations in Glasgow, but to the entire space sector in the whole of the UK.”
For Lockheed Martin, the announcement is part of a strategy to boost space launch technology in the UK. As well as the Sutherland development, the company is working on a Cubesat delivery vehicle in partnership with Moog, designed to carry up to six of the small Cubesat modules and deploy them into orbit at staggered times. This Small Launch Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle (SL-OMV) “can deploy [satellites] at the most optimal times and positions for their respective missions,” Lockheed says.
Another partnership, with Orbital Microsystems, is to create and fly UK-built pathfinder tests to validate the performance of the SL-OMV. “This historic ‘pathfinder’ launch for the UK will also demonstrate the tremendous potential small satellites and CubeSats have across a wide range of commercial and government data collection applications,” said Lockheed Martin’s UK chief executive space, Patrick Wood. “We believe, as the UK Space Agency does, that this effort will help bring the UK to the forefront of the rapidly-growing, global small satellite market and support the UK’s maturing space supply chain.”
Although most space launches are carried out from sites near to the equator, to take advantage of the effect of the greater speed of the planet’s revolution, Wood recently told the Engineer that sites at northern latitudes have advantages for commercially attractive orbits. “Equatorial launches are good for geosynchronous satellites, but a spaceport in Scotland would be good for polar orbits which are useful for earth mapping and observation and for telecommunications,” he said. Lockheed Martin currently launches its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand, and the BBC reports today that it has ambitions to launch Electron from Scotland.
The horizontal launch aspect of the announcement will help satellite launchers that take off like a conventional aircraft and release a satellite launcher at altitude to be flown from the UK. Newquay airport in Cornwall has already expressed an interest in hosting Virgin Galactic’s satellite launch capability, which is based around the aircraft that will also launch its passenger spacecraft, currently in trials. The Welsh government also has ambitions to build a horizontal launch spaceport in Snowdonia. Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns commented: “The UK Government has an exciting ambition to take the UK into the commercial space age by enabling small satellite launch and spaceflight from UK spaceports. Wales now has an exciting window of opportunity to take a leading role in shaping that future. We have the right geography and a skilled engineering base in aerospace, electronics and the software industries, standing ready to diversify and to flourish in the fast-developing space market.”
Horizontal launch will also suit the UK developed spaceplane Skylon, which is being designed to use the Sabre hybrid air-breathing rocket jet engine Sabre, being developed by Reaction Engines in Oxfordshire.