Britain plans to have its first spaceport built and in operation by 2018, allowing companies like Virgin Galactic to begin launching space-tourism flights from right within the country, reports the Guardian. The plans will be formally announced by the British government on Tuesday, at which point it will detail the eight locations that are currently under consideration for where the spaceport will go. According to the Guardian, locations are speculated to include Bristol, Norfolk, the north of Scotland, and the Outer Hebrides.
"We have now created a shortlist of locations for the first British spaceport."
"We have worked out the regulatory regime we need to launch spaceships in Britain and assessed what kind of aviation checks will have to be imposed when we put craft into space," UK science minister David Willetts tells the Guardian. "In the wake of that work we have now created a shortlist of locations for the first British spaceport."
The spaceport would be used to launch both manned missions and commercial satellites, and the Guardian cites companies including Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace as potential users. The eight potential spaceport sites are now being studied by government officials ahead of a final decision, though it isn't clear when that's expected.
Still, the spaceport plan calls for a quick turnaround, which shouldn't be a surprise considering how the UK's space sector has been growing. According to the Guardian, the sector is now worth over £11 billion ($18.8 billion), and the government wants to help raise that to around £40 billion for 2030.
With commercial space tourism quite literally beginning to take off, this is a key moment for the UK to jump in. Virgin Galactic plans to have its first commercial flights begin later this year from a base in New Mexico, and its founder, Richard Branson, is reported to have identified at least one location in the United Kingdom that would work for his company to launch flights from, too.