Britain needs a spaceport because one day everybody will fly from these 21st century hangers to the stars, not just rich space tourists. At least that's the size of the argument in 2015.
Those still in the running have been announced as Campbeltown, Prestwick, and Stornoway in Scotland, Newquay in England and Llanbedr in Wales. RAF Leuchars near to St Andrews in Scotland has been suggested as ‘temporary’ site.
UK Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill was in predictably good mood. “I want Britain to lead the way in commercial spaceflight. Establishing a spaceport will ensure we are at the forefront of this exciting new technology,” he said.
“Today’s consultation response marks another step forward in our work to support this emerging industry, which will create jobs and drive economic growth.” By 2030, these could be as high as £400 million per annum, he added.
The problem, of course, is nobody knows exactly what spaceports will be like in terms of technical requirements because the craft that will fly from them are still in their very early stages, and their commercial potential is based on the optimistic guess. It’s as if the Wright Brothers had landed from the first powered flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk and set about planning Heathrow Airport.
In the meantime it sounds promising to name some sites even if problems remain to be overcome. If they were building airports – tricky enough given English, Welsh and Scottish planning law – you might call this blue sky thinking.
By their nature spaceports need to be reasonably remote because the potential for risk to population is far greater than with a conventional airport. But they can’t be too remote or they end up being difficult and expensive to build let alone get to.
All of the earmarked sites are indeed remote, bar perhaps Prestwick, which has at least been a working airport on the Scottish coast for some decades – a loss making one at that. But it still looks like the favourite from this list simply for reasons of cost. Newquay might pass the same test assuming people in Cornwall want it
Llanbedr in North Wales sits in one of the UK’s most stunning areas of natural beauty, partly the sceptic might point out because it’s not well served by roads and remains gloriously unspoilt. It can be time-consuming to get to even if travelling from the Liverpool or Manchester area via the A55. This is even more true of Cambeltown and Stornoway.
None of the issues of remoteness and infrastructure are beyond being solved for any of the contenders but that would take money, time and the buy-in from local populations. Money might turn out to be the issue because a lot will be neded whichever candidate gets through the selection process.
The chances of the Government building a white elephant seem very small because the chances of them building anything in an age when getting even high-speed trains approved has proved controversial is currently remote.