1. Science
February 10, 2017

The countdown’s begun: commercial spaceflight is about to take off

Commercial spaceflight is a hot topic right now.

In 2016, Moon Express was the first private space company to be given permission to land on the Moon, with other private companies following soon after.

At the end of last year, Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShip Two — a so-called suborbital spaceplane — performed its second free flight as the company works towards its proposed Mars trip.

The company says it currently has about 700 customers who have signed up to take a flight on the plane.

The UK government wants to tap into this billion-dollar industry by launching a new £10m scheme to boost commercial spaceflight in the UK. It is estimated the market could be worth an estimated £25bn over the next 20 years.

The grants are aimed at companies that want to start launching satellites, and later people, from British soil.

Aerodromes that might make suitable spaceports have been identified across the country, from Cornwall to Scotland.

Currently, rocket planes and other launch systems being developed around the world are not legally able to operate out of the UK. A new Spaceflight bill, however, would put the necessary regulation and licensing framework in place to make this a reality.

The UK government believes space is a key sector that could help rebalance the services-dominated British economy. The science minister Jo Johnson said:

“Spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation. It provides opportunities to expand into new markets, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting local economies across the country.


“That is why it is one of the key pillars of our Industrial Strategy. We want to see the UK space sector flourish, that is why we are laying the groundwork needed for business to be able to access this lucrative global market.”

Satellites are the current focus for the industry at the moment. They are regarded as one of the “eight great technologies” that will lead to significant growth opportunities. However, in the future it is believed that “tourist” flights on sub-orbital rocket planes could become part of the services being offered as well.

It seems that space holidays to Mars are not so far, far away anymore.

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