The UK government has shortened its list of potential sites for Europe's first commercial spaceport. It is hoped that the spaceport will be operational by the year 2018, ready to ride the wave of a new breed of commercial spaceplane that will carry paying customers and even satellites into low-Earth orbit.
The announcement comes at the conclusion of a three-month consultation of the original sites shortlisted by the Civil Aviation Authority back in August 2012. The sites were selected on the basis of three key criteria:
- The spaceport must be constructed on an existing civil or military aerodrome with a runway of over 3,000 m (9,843 ft) in length
- Capable of accommodating segregated airspace for the safe conducting of spaceflight operations without overt interference with current military and civilian flight paths
- The chosen site must be located away from densely populated areas in the interest of public safety – a prime concern until there is a better understanding of the risks to be expected of spaceplane operations
The consultation concluded that the remaining potential spaceport sites were Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick, Stornoway, Newquay and RAF Llanbedr. Two previously shortlisted sites – RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks, have been removed from consideration due to their vital military roles.
Similarly, whilst RAF Llanbedr has been named in the release as one of the shortlisted options for spaceflight operations, the Ministry of Defence has noted that due to future defense plans for the base, it may be unfit for serving as a permanent spaceport, though the government is not ready to rule out the possibility of using a military base in such a capacity entirely.
The next step along the road to an operational UK based spaceport will be a detailed technical specification of spaceport requirements, to be released by the Department for Transport later this year.