Scotland from space v2

NASA image by Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Team, Goddard Space Flight Center

I have always wanted to travel into space, but in general I’m not a big fan of flying long distances. Whenever my family went on holiday when I was a child, we went via car and ferry to France. Living in Scotland, this meant 9 or 10 hours in the car before a night and a B&B and then onto the ferry and it was great! I still enjoy travelling by car (which was a bonus last year on my lecture tour where I clocked around 20,000 miles) and train but flying out of Scotland for any long distance usually meant catching a flight to London before catching a connection that usually flew back over our house.

The prospect of being a space tourist in the future is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality thanks to investment from governments and commercial operators. SpaceX are working to radically reduce the cost of access to space and with the development of their re-usable rockets flying along this might not be far away. Virgin Galactic and other similar space tourism providers are hoping to start launches in the coming years, although £100,000 is still a bit too expensive for me. Alas I’m not going to be an innovator or early adopter, maybe not even in the early majority – it all depends on how quickly the cost comes down.

The hope is that with investment and innovation in space flight technologies in the coming decades the cost for a space tourist will come down into the tens of thousands, rather than in the hundreds. This is what I dream of: a holiday in space! Although until recently when I imagined my first flight, I saw myself in the middle of the New Mexico desert or in Baikonaur, Kazakhstan. I didn’t imagine that I would be able to drive up to the launch complex, but this could be what happens.

The UK Space industry has been growing healthily over the previous decade and has continued to do so through the economic downturn. The industry is made up of a range of areas and can be segmented into “upstream” (focus is on sending items into space, eg satellites and building instruments for space exploration) and “downstream” (this area uses the knowledge and technology that come from the upstream segment and applies it in many different ways). The government has responded to an industry proposal for investment to ensure the UK has 10% of the global space market by 2030. Part of this includes investigating the opportunities for having a space port in the UK.

I find the prospect incredibly exciting. I was lucky enough to see a Shuttle Launch in the 1990s when I was on holiday in Florida and it was a brilliant experience. I love watching rocket launches (I now watch them online) as you get a sense of the power and control required to escape gravity at the surface. In future if I ever get a chance to see any kind of rocket launch live I will jump at the chance. Having a resource like this in the UK would also be inspiring for young people and help to anchor their ambitions as being something they can achieve in this country.

The benefit for industry would be to secure and reduce cost of access to space for UK companies and perhaps would encourage development in the area of commercial spaceflight in the UK if they knew there was somewhere to launch from. It is becoming more and more difficult for companies to secure launches from existing sites. The site itself will need to be in a remote area, likely next to the coast and away from busy airline routes.

Discussion around the technicalities is ongoing and this includes any implications relating to the Outer Space Act, however I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops. In the short to medium term this could just provide satellite launches but it would be wonderful if, when the time comes, I can make the relatively short journey into space from Scotland. I just need to keep saving!

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