Good news for wannabe Brit rocket operators: regulations have finally arrived before UK lawmakers aimed at allowing commercial operators to launch from local soil.
It has been a while coming, but the government regulations, developed with the UK Space Agency and Civil Aviation Authority, will mean that satellites can, in theory, be launched from one of Britain's planned spaceports in 2022. Cornwall, Wales and Scotland are all in the frame as potential departure points.
The regulations are due to come into force over the summer.
The UK is notable for being in an elite club of nations that developed an orbital launcher before ditching the tech in favour of focusing on satellites and spacecraft. It's almost 50 years since the country managed its first, and only, orbital launch of the Black Arrow rocket. The last Black Arrow was never launched and can be seen strung up from the ceiling in London's Science Museum.
While the Black Arrow was launched in Australia, the focus this time is very much on the UK. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (notable for recently putting the "Great" into "Great British Railways") said: "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."
Enthusiasts hopeful of seeing humans flung into space from remote bits of the UK have a while to wait. While the British government spoke enthusiastically of sub-orbital space tourism and hypersonic flight, the immediate uses will be somewhat more prosaic, and focused on the launching of small satellites.
Edinburgh-based Skyrora test fired its Skylark-L in the Scottish Highlands last year before trekking to Iceland to launch its Skylark Micro. The considerably beefier Skyrora XL, capable of sending a payload of up to 315kg into orbit is due for its first flight next year.
Praising the arrival of the regulations, CEO Volodymyr Levykin said: "Our Skyrora XL three-stage rocket is on track to be ready for launch in 2022, along with our space tug - which can play a pivotal role in efforts to clear space debris and we're proud that we’ll be ready to offer these capabilities from UK soil."
Rival rocketeer, Forres-based Orbex, is also in the running for a first flight with its Prime rocket. Capable of carrying payloads of up to 180kg, the company is planning to use Space Hub Sutherland. However, the date of that flight appears to have slipped to 2023, judging by recent emissions from the UK Space Agency.
Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, told The Register: "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 this 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." ®