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Rockets could launch from UK next year as government provides regulatory ‘launchpad’

Professional Engineering

How a launch by UK rocket firm Skyrora could look (Credit: Skyrora)
How a launch by UK rocket firm Skyrora could look (Credit: Skyrora)

Rockets could launch satellites into space from UK soil for the first time next year.

The major milestone for the country’s space industry could be enabled by new regulations tabled in parliament today (24 May).

Spaceports are planned in Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. Sutherland, in the Scottish Highlands, will host the UK’s first vertical take-off port.

British rocket firm Orbex will launch its Prime launcher from the port, sending satellites into orbit using technology including 3D-printed rocket engines. Skyrora, another UK rocket company, also aims to launch from British soil.

“Another barrier to space exploration from UK soil is lifted today,” a government announcement said.

“This is a pivotal moment for our spaceflight ambitions,” said transport secretary Grant Shapps. “Since the start of the spaceflight programme in 2017, we have been clear that we want to be the first country to launch into orbit from Europe.

“The laying of these regulations puts us firmly on track to see the first UK launches take place from 2022, unlocking a new era in commercial spaceflight for all four corners of our nation.”

The government said the legislation will come into force this summer, helping propel the development of commercial technologies including conventional rockets, high-altitude balloons and spaceplanes. It hopes that spaceport launches will create new jobs, boost local economies and inspire the next generation of engineers and space scientists. In the long term, it hopes to see new space activity launching from UK spaceports, including sub-orbital space tourism and hypersonic flight.

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, told Professional Engineering: "To be able to launch a rocket into orbit, you need three things. You need a rocket, a spaceport and you need the regulatory environment. Orbex has made a lot of progress with our rocket and that will be ready to launch from next year. 

"The second thing is the spaceport. Our 'home' spaceport is Space Hub Sutherland, which is still the only spaceport that has received planning permission in the UK.

"And the third thing is the regulatory environment. With today's announcement, we are hopeful that this will be in place and that the appropriate infrastructure and licences will follow in short order for Orbex to be able to launch from next year."

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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