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March 11, 2015

One small step

The community buy out of Machrihanish Airbase was one of the largest and most complicated yet. Four years of negotiations finally concluded in 2012 with the purchase from MOD of the base for the princely sum of £1. It’s a huge site with all manner of unusual buildings which the community are gradually bringing back into productive use. It’s also got 10,000 feet of runway which not only makes it one of the longest in Europe but also well placed to accommodate the next generation of space travellers.



The UK government has issued a shortlist of aerodromes that could host a UK spaceport. The list reduces the number of runways first suggested as candidates when last year’s consultation got under way.

Still in are Campbeltown (Machrihanish), Glasgow Prestwick, and Stornoway in Scotland; Newquay in England and Llanbedr in Wales. RAF Leuchars is confirmed as a potential temporary facility. Ministers are keen to see the spaceport established by 2018.

To make that happen, they will also have to put in place the necessary regulatory and licensing arrangements. The government has ruled out two airfields in the consultation: RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks in Scotland. The decision was made for operational defence reasons, it said.

The emphasis will be on the expected emergence of a new breed of low-cost rocket planes that can launch fare-paying passengers to sub-orbital altitudes and also satellites into orbit.

Most of potential vehicles are still quite some time away from flying, but ministers believe that if the UK gets its act together now, the nation can catch the first wave when it arrives.

Precisely where the British spaceport would be sited will depend on a number of factors, but the overriding imperative of the licensing authorities will be to find a location that limits danger and inconvenience to the general public.

That is why the six potentials listed are all on the coast: the spaceplanes could then operate out over water.

Even so, the environmental impacts will have to be carefully managed, and an opening found in Britain’s highly congested airspace (more than two million flights transit UK airspace every year).

Aviation minister Robert Goodwill said in a statement: “I want Britain to lead the way in commercial spaceflight. Establishing a spaceport will ensure we are at the forefront of this exciting new technology.

“Today’s consultation response marks another step forward in our work to support this emerging industry, which will create jobs and drive economic growth.”