Ambitious plans for UK commercial spaceflight just came a step closer to blast-off

Lynsey Barber
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Technology to make commercial spaceflight a reality is being developed around the world (Source: Getty)

Ambitious plans to develop the UK's commercial spaceflight sector are nearing take-off with fresh multi-million pound funding promised by the government and draft legislation for the fledgling sector due "within weeks".

Grants for businesses hoping to send tourists and satellites into space worth up to £10m have been announced by science minister Jo Johnson.

"We want to see the UK space sector flourish. That is why we are laying the groundwork needed for business to be able to access this lucrative global market worth an estimated £25 billion over the next 20 years. The call for proposals I announced today, together with a new, dedicated Spaceflight Bill, will help make our space ambitions a reality," he said.

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Businesses working on spaceport infrastructure – the sites from which flights will be launched – and launch technology will be eligible for the cash.

Meanwhile, a Spaceflight Bill will be drafted in the coming weeks, proposing legislation to regulate the sector.

"The space sector is vital to the future of the UK economy, with a strong record of creating high-value jobs and generating wealth across the country," said transport minister Chris Grayling.

The plans, a focus of the government's modern industrial strategy announced in January, were lambasted by the Lib Dems, however, saying Grayling should be shot into space.

“This £10m shows just how out of touch the government really are. Only a handful of extremely wealthy people would consider space tourism an option," said shadow transport secretary Jenny Randerson.

"And while people are struggling with the current infrastructure here on earth the government should take a reality check. Improving our railways and are roads with this cash would be money much more wisely spent.”

She added: "With this kind of thinking the first person shot into space on the test flight should be Chris Grayling."

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Top entrepreneurs across the world are working on commercial spaceflight technology with ambitions to make space travel affordable for all. They include Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

The legislation will kick-start licensing for spaceport locations across the country, companies wanting to launch from the UK and those wanting to operate sub-orbital flights.

The government wants to grow the UK's share of the market from 6.5 per cent to 10 per cent by 2030, with the small satellite launch market expected to grow rapidly.

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