back to article to clear way for Britain's first SPACEPORT

The UK government is trying to open up the skies to revolutionary new spaceplanes and other such craft like Reaction Engines' Skylon. Science minister David Willetts said in a speech at the Farnborough Air Show yesterday that the UK and Europe had an opportunity to "seize the advantage" in space technology. "At present, in my …


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  1. Rob

    Please, please, please....

    .... let it be successful.

    I would love to see the SABRE engine technology come to fruition, like the ESA said it's a game changer. More to the point it will see the UK in the Space market again, so long after Thatcher killed our space program.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Please, please, please....

      Will Special Project Bureau relocate back to UK from Spain?

    2. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Please, please, please....

      The UK space effort was dead long before Thatcher got there.

      Look up Blue Streak for the last great British rocket (retired in '71).

  2. TrevorH
    Thumb Down

    Less of the CRAPITALS please

    Putting CAPITALS in your subheadings was amusing the first time you did it. When you do it all the time, it becomes childish and annoying. Please stop.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Less of the CRAPITALS please

      "when you do it all the time.."

      Out the 45 headlines on the front page right now, just FIVE have a capped up screamer - not including the headlines with acronyms and the like.


      1. Neil Greatorex

        Re: Less of the CRAPITALS please

        "Out the 45 headlines on the front page right now, just FIVE have a capped up screamer"

        Yabbut there'll be no readers on the 40 without shouty headlines..

        An unfortunate consequence of the "dumbing down", a bit of a non sequitor I know, given the red top nature of el reg, is the increase in numbers of the technically illiterate; to whom the odd shouty headline attracts attention.

        "BIG DUMB GUY <insert number> proves my point brilliantly.

  3. GrumpyJoe

    Innovative British R&D?

    And the politicians see the potential? It's fucked then.

    You know it. I know it. If a 'Skylon' engine ever happens it'll be Chinese or American.


    1. Trollslayer

      Re: Innovative British R&D?

      Like Rolls Royce Engines?

      They might make a good partner for the engines.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Innovative British R&D?

        Like Rolls Royce Engines?

        yes, just like rolls royce motors, a good british company not owned by a british company.

  4. QuinnDexter

    It looks cool...

    ...though it needs some fancy moving parts and sound effects to emphasise when it's going from plane to rocket mode. And who doesn't want a matt black Bond villian-esque rocket? Looks like the hollowed out volcano will need to be remodelled to allow horizontal take-off and landing.

    The sound on that video is terrible, btw.

    1. Vulch

      Re: It looks cool...

      Get your very own desktop model from the BIS...

      1. graeme leggett Silver badge

        Re: It looks cool...

        We'll know it is a success when Airfix make a model of it.

  5. Gordon 10

    Meh regulation

    Typical politico's whats needed to kick start any UK based spacesport is a lack of regulation not more of it.

    Take an out of the way part of the country - say Wales or Norfolk. Designate 20 sq miles as prime spaceport land. Repeal the health and safety legislation in the spaceport. Repeal any VAT, Income or Import duties on space based activties located there - and watch the companies flood in. Offer relocation incentives and employment quotas for the local slackjaws.

    Best of all - since there is virtually no space industry in the uk apart from Surrey Satelites investment would flood in and again since there are vritually no players in this space already no Tax income is lost.

    1. David Dawson

      Re: Meh regulation

      Well... its more like what is permitted to fly in UK airspace. Its not a free for all now, provisions need to be made to allow rocket planes to fly/ land here.

      Health & Safety regs have been widely misused and abused. They were originally intended for industrial settings where too many workers to getting squashed in machinery or ending up wading in molten steel.

      It wasn't originally intended for office workers et al, but somehow its been applied everywhere...

      On an airport though (with rockets!), it seems a good idea to have decent regs on on what is deemed to be safe... no?

      All the rest though, yeah, absolutely!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meh regulation

      'Best of all - since there is virtually no space industry in the uk apart from Surrey Satelites'

      The moneyspinning folks at Astrium would probably disagree with you on that point. The UK builds a sizeable proportion of the world's commsats.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meh regulation

      We used to have a space programme, which culminated in the successful launch of a British satellite from a British launcher: Black Arrow R3 carrying X3 ‘Prospero’ on 28 October 1971 from Woomera. After which we walked away—a bit like the Wright brothers after their successful flight going, ‘Well, back to the horse and cart for us, then.’ Cancelled by Heath (so no point in blaming everything on Mrs Thatch—Britain has been getting stuffed by her governments for most of the 20th C.). A British launch site was seriously considered in preference to Woomera, and two sites were looked at for launching north into polar orbit: Norfolk was promising until it was noticed that the North Sea was filling up with oil rigs; the other was an existing rocket test site in South Uist in the Hebrides.

      Agreed, regarding government regulation—on March 10, 1956, the Fairey FD.2 delta-wing aircraft set a world speed record of 1,132mph, exceeding the previous record set in 1955 by an American F-100 by over 300mph. The govt. then prohibited supersonic flight over populated areas of Britain below 30,000 feet; Fairey continued low-level supersonic trials of the FD.2 in France courtesy of Dassault. Dassault observed the trials closely, later producing their very successful (in terms of export sales) Mirage III.

      (Sources: ‘A Vertical Empire: The History of the UK Rocket and Space Programme’ by C.N. Hill; ‘Project Cancelled: British aircraft that never flew’ by Derek Wood)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meh regulation

      Norfolk is not that out of the way in terms of airspace. Assuming its not July and raining, I can look up and see several contrails from airliners. Marham is flying Tornados and may get other aircraft (to annoy the Scottish?) . It may no longer be a case of "Thunder and Lightnings" and the 8th USAAF left more than 60 years ago but there are some US bases active in East Anglia.

      Just because it takes a couple of hours from London on the ground does not make it uninhabited nor remote from other activities.

      There's also the public concern angle - they are kicking up enough fuss in the west part of the county over a modern incinerator. How they might react to a huge robot fuel tank flying overhead is

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meh regulation

      Talented people! Come and work at Norfolk Spaceport!

      Surrounded by highly flammable, toxic and explosive materials; you'll enter a wonderland of noise, fumes and fast moving heavy objects. But don't worry, although there are no actual laws or regulations making the new Chinese owners liable or responsible in any way for your safety, we're sure they'll totally have your best interests at heart, and in no way cut any corners to avoid you being crushed, poisoned, incinerated, decapitated or blown up.

  6. The Axe

    We're fucked

    That's it, kiss any chance of the UK being involved in the space race goodbye. The moment the government wants to stick its fingers into a business and put in place regulations you know that that business is going to be a die a slow death and only survive because the government will put in loads of taxpayers money - but only if politicians like the business because they are paid by some lobbying organisation.

  7. Alan Firminger

    Remember that great British dream - Hotol

    Here :

    1. Jabber 44

      Re: Remember that great British dream - Hotol

      In 1989 HOTOL co-creator Alan Bond formed Reaction Engines Limited which has since been working on the Reaction Engines Skylon vehicle intended to solve the problems of HOTOL.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Remember that great British dream - Hotol

      As well as I remember that great French dream Hermes.

      Or (for those of a very long memory) DyanSoar 2.0.

  8. proto-robbie


    David Willets doesn't suck in hot air at the front.

  9. DJ 2

    UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

    you need extensive western downrange airspace to be able to get into orbit.

    Do they expect these fictional spaceplanes to fly out into the atlantic then turn around and fly against the spin of the earth?

    If they flew west from the UK, I'm sure Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark would have objections.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

      Don't we still own Ascension Island? Near the Equator, long runway, bugger all immediately to the East - it'd make a fantastic spaceport.

      1. HaydnH
        Thumb Down

        Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

        Good call! "You can fly anywhere in the world in under 4 hours... as long as you fly 8 hours to get to the port first."

      2. Fibbles

        Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

        I thought one of the main selling points of Skylon and its successors was 'faster than Concorde' travel to anywhere on the planet? If that's the case then the spaceports are going to need to be at least within - excuse the pun - shuttle distance of major cities.

    2. Vulch

      Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

      You mostly need a big down range so you can drop of bits of your rocket without having them land on anyones head. For a horizontal lander you want a number of big airstrips down range instead, there were some scary abort options required for the shuttle for the gap over the Atlantic.

      Skylon switches to pure rocket propulsion about 10 minutes into the flight, at which point it is 620km down range and 28.5km up. Launch from Lincolnshire and that will happen just after it crosses the Danish coast. The countries you mentioned don't seem to be worried about 747s which are 20%-40% heavier at take off flying around a lot lower.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

      "you need extensive western downrange airspace to be able to get into orbit"

      Only if you plan to drop parts of your vehicle off on the way.

    4. frank ly

      @DJ 2 Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

      If you fly west from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, etc. won't even know about it; (they are to the east of the UK).

      Also, if you fly out into the Atlantic, then turn around and fly back (heading east), you are flying with the spin of the earth.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

      "If they flew west from the UK, I'm sure Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark would have objections"

      I doubt that seeing as they are to the east.

      1. Jibberish

        Re: UK is in the wrong place to have a space port.

        obviously mean the other east

  10. Crisp


    Maybe I wont have to learn Mandarin or Russian to go into space after all.

  11. AceRimmer1980
    IT Angle

    Hive of Scum and Villainy

    Only if I can trade Alien Items in the departure lounge.

    The scruffy-looking one, with 'Nerf Herding for Beginners'.

  12. Miami Mike

    Minor aerodynamic problem

    I certainly hope the engine works, but you can bet your bottom dollar/euro/pound/yen/whatever that the snazzy looking space plane in the artist's rendering is never going to fly.

    Why not? If one engine goes out (and they do that from time to time) the resultant asymmetrical thrust will be far to much to fix with rudder, and at Mach whatever, that aircraft is going to explode like a Guy Fawkes Day pinwheel.

    There's a reason why bizjets and small airliners tend to have the engines close to the center line and not out on the wingtips - engine out asymmetrical thrust is it. You will also note that BIG airliners and transports with multiple engines along each wing tend to have BIG rudders as well. Skylon has a very high power engine at each wingtip and a very small rudder . . . I'll sit this one out, if you don't mind.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Minor aerodynamic problem

      Would your opinion change if you knew there are *two* engines inside of each nacelle?

      Because there are.

      You might like to look up the reaction engines web site.

      1. Miami Mike

        Re: Minor aerodynamic problem

        Actually, that makes it worse . . .

        A failure in one engine is quite likely to propagate to the other one. The Germans discovered this in the HE-177 bomber which used a pair of DB V-12s in each of two nacelles to drive a single prop on each wing. The setup was highly incendiary, and the airplane quickly became extremely unpopular with the surviving crews. The Russians re-discovered the same problem some years later in the TU-144, with the same results. Even the legendary Vulcan fell victim to this. Someone got a (posthumous) medal for not letting the stricken bomber crash into a town. The USAF lost a B-58 Hustler in the UK to adverse yaw when one of the outboard engines flamed out: Instant flat spin and airframe destruction. Also, look up "unstart yaw" in regards to the SR-71. Stuffing multiple high performance engines into a single nacelle is poor design, and hanging them out at the far ends of the wings is even worse. A review of the long, unhappy annals of aviation disasters over the years shows this arrangement to be a design error, just like the O rings on the Challenger.

        Engine failures DO occur, and sometimes they are uncontained. The trick is to design your aircraft so that loss of an engine doesn't affect the structural integrity of the airframe or seriously compromise control authority. This is especially important on really high performance aircraft because these are operating at the very limits of the technology and perhaps sometimes a bit beyond.

        I don't have a problem with the engines - my problem is with the airframe packaging. It looks great, but it is not a fault-tolerant design. Aircraft in general, and especially aircraft like this, need to have some safety margins in case of component failure.

        There is also the good possibility that the final aircraft will not look at all like the concept. Remember that these guys are raising money and political backing from people who don't know much about airplanes beyond they do/don't want a window seat, and talking about adverse yaw and failure propagation will scare off the money. The renderings LOOK great - flat black, stubby fins, it screams SPEED . . . but as shown, it has some serious problems if there is any problem at all with any of the state-of-the-art bleeding edge technology engines, and history shows us there will be, sooner or later. Good design avoids these known problems, and that's my complaint here. The airplane looks great, but if anything goes wrong, it will be completely unforgiving.

        Make the engines work properly and reliably, then design the airframe around it. I really do hope it is a success, and I'd love to fly it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The US will ban supersonic sabre flight over it territory like they did last time.

    1. Miami Mike

      Won't matter!

      Even if we did, it won't matter. Flights to the east coast (NY, DC, Orlando, Miami) will have dropped to subsonic speeds long before they are in US airspace, flights to the west coast (LA, SF) can go over the north pole and the same applies. Subsonic airliners start their approach half an hour or so out, descending at 1,000 fpm and slowing down progressively as they descend. If this thing were at 50,000 feet, even at 2,500 fpm down it would take almost half an hour from cruise to touchdown hence no supersonic US overflights. I suppose if you wanted to go to Chicago, you'd have to approach via Canada, but that isn't a problem because a) northern Canada is very sparsely populated, b) they're too polite to complain about it anyway, and c) nobody wants to go to Chicago in the first place.

      The only real downside is travel inside the states will still be subsonic, although if this thing is in near-space or sub-orbital, there won't be a sonic boom anyway. Takeoff noise will still be impressive, though, and you can bet people will complain about that near EVERY airport, US or not.

    2. David 164

      They can ban it, but I am sure the costs ratio would mean America companies would look to UK companies or Europeans companies to build and launch their satellites for them, leaving the rest of the US launch industry and probably a large percentage of the space industry relying on Nasa and US military launches to survive. An I am sure some in congress will be asking why they are paying 100million a launch and increasing every year, when commercial companies and other governments who are not reliant of throwaway rockets are getting launches done for 10 million and decreasing costs as Skylon matures.

  14. BozNZ

    not in UK

    Last week one of the engineers from reaction engines was interviewed on the space show he mentioned that the runway needed to be about 15KM long and the noise of the engine would contravene just about every H&S Law in the world, as much as blighty needs this, the UK is not really an ideal place for it,

    Plus, and unfortunately but true, You'd never get it past the tree-huggers in a million years.

    Make them in UK by all means but I'd tell reaction engines to sell their pre-coolers and sabre engines to real space faring countries

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: not in UK

      "Last week one of the engineers from reaction engines was interviewed on the space show"


      "he mentioned that the runway needed to be about 15KM l"

      I think you mean feet. Look it up.

      "the noise of the engine would contravene just about every H&S Law in the world"

      Also true.

      "as much as blighty needs this, the UK is not really an ideal place for it,"

      As Mark Hempsell stated at the time.

      "Make them in UK by all means but I'd tell reaction engines to sell their pre-coolers and sabre engines to real space faring countries"

      Sklon has a feature called "self ferry" which expendable launch vehicle have a problem with.

      "real space faring countries""

      The effortlessly patronizing tone. You're not an American by any chance? How are the negotiations going for the next round of seats to the ISS? Getting a good price from the Russians (or vice versa)?

  15. Don Jefe


    Britain needs to figure out how to build a functional airport before they start looking at spaceports. The sprawling mess that is Heathrow (sp?) Is not only needlessly large it isn't even that busy. I hate having to go through there.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Airports

      "it isn't even that busy. I hate having to go through there."

      First part - cross

      Second part - tick

  16. lawndart


    "Anastasia, you are cleared for landing. Runway 65 left."

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Spaceport in Britain? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    What are are they gonna use it for? Maybe *if* it even had a mediocre space program this would have made any sense.

    Fail for a nation which once ruled the seven seas, now does not even have the equivalent of a rowboat in space.

  18. Kharkov

    Britain: Good place to build, bad place to launch from.

    Runway? 5KM (not 15KM) needed to give enough space to abort takeoff while just below takeoff speed.

    Source: Mark Hempsell - 1st Space Show Interview.

    Britain? Really in the wrong place for space launches, except polar/sun-synchronous. Big issues with noise etc.

    Source: Everyone.

    Build it? The UK is fine for this since it can take off (with a shorter run) with just enough fuel to ferry itself to... basically wherever.

    Source: Mark Hempsell - 1st Space Show Interview.

    Best place to launch from? Ascension Island will be good presuming people don't mind giving up a HUGE chunk of their island to do it. (Won't happen). Kenya would be good. You could build a big runway near the coast (a couple of degrees south of the equator) as long as you don't mind being quite near Somalia. (Bit iffy). Brazil would work nicely - it shouldn't be too hard to find 15 square kilometres (5km x 3km) of flat(tish) land on or near their east coast.

    Source: Me, just me.

    1. Steve 14
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Britain: Good place to build, bad place to launch from.

      Macrihanish? Was up for sale at the at the start of the year for £1 if the UK space budget could stretch to that.

      Good long runway, scope to extend, local economy keen for investment and jobs so proabbaly willing to put up with the odd bit of noise a few times a year and if it's good enough for the aurora....

      1. Kharkov

        Re: Britain: Good place to build, bad place to launch from.

        What? Campbeltown Airport (formerly RAF Macrihanish)?

        Runway length 1.75Km - should be 5km - on a Scottish island - High Northern Latitudes. Suitable only for Polar/Sun-Synchronus orbits, lousy place for getting stuff to GTO.

        Probably not the best choice.

        Although the aurora would be cool...

  19. Kharkov


    Perhaps I'd better clarify about Ascension Island. The RAF already has a 3Km runway there but extending it (or building a new 5Km one) would be bound to run into opposition from the Islanders who probably wouldn't want the noise of a Skylon taking off a couple of times a week or more.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Ooops

      Isn't it a shame that space exploration is being hobbled by a few people that don't want a bit of noise every now and again?

      I am nearly driven to despair by my species.

  20. Martin Budden


    Runway already very long, with room to extend if needed.

    Right on the coast so noise quickly over sea instead of many miles of towns.

    Planning authority easy to bribe.

  21. Trollslayer

    Odd responses

    Here we have government simply removing a potential hurdle and giving a British project a bit of publicity in the process.

    As to location - yes, for obrital lanuches the wrong place but how about for transfers to/from other locations?

    Pretty much what Kharkov said.

  22. Fybot

    Apologies for OT but ...

    ... what is the first piece of music and what TV programme am I struggling to associate it with?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apologies for OT but ...

      It’s by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius: Intermezzo from his ‘Karelia Suite, Op. 11’. Assuming you’re British, the TV programme you’re likely thinking of is the ITV current affairs show ‘This Week’ (1963–92), which used it as its theme tune.

      (For a real nostalgia trip, you might check out Mountain’s ‘Nantucket Sleighride’. Incidentally, if you like classical music and Sibelius, I recommend seeking out a live performance of Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony—the 3rd & 4th movements are outstanding. For what my opinion is worth.)

      1. Fybot

        Re: Apologies for OT but ...

        Appreciated NFI, I might get some sleep tonight ...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The wife of a space tourist....

    I would by a seat just to escape that woman!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ascension Island

    Ascension Island has it all. The right name, the right location on the globe and no neighbours to annoy. How much to extend the runway and fit it with the all important fold-down palm trees?

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