United Kingdom picks location in Scotland for spaceport


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The British government, after years of study, has chosen a location in northern Scotland for its first homegrown spaceport.

In a statement issued in advance of the start of the Farnborough International Airshow, the U.K. Space Agency said it will provide initial funding of 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million) to begin development of a vertical launch site in Sutherland, on the Atlantic coast in northern Scotland.

In its announcement, the agency said it selected the site “because Scotland is the best place in the U.K. to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets.” The site would allow launches to the north, supporting spacecraft operating in sun-synchronous or other highly inclined orbits.

The announcement gave few details about the facility or indicated what company, or companies, would use it, but noted launches would begin there in the early 2020s. More information is expected to be announced July 16 at the air show.

This announcement contradicts a 2016 policy decision that had instead opened up spaceport licensing to whatever location wished to do it. Now the British government appears to have stepped in and picked this one site, though the article also says they are considering a second site for horizontal launches, using such systems as the Pegasus rocket, Stratolaunch, and LauncherOne.

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5 comments

  • born01930

    For a highly inclined or polar orbit does location matter that much? I understand the equatorial reason but with HI orbits there is no spin bonus so I would think location doesn’t matter much.

  • wayne

    “The British Space Race”
    BBC 2004, (part 1)
    https://youtu.be/yW5X8dhxA_8
    (19:41)

  • wayne

    “Once We Had A Rocket”
    the story of Black Arrow
    https://youtu.be/VVg_RMMQ4Jg

  • Localfluff

    @born01930
    Latitude hardly matters much even for equatorial orbits. Velocity required to enter LEO is about 8,000 m/s. The equator’s rotation speed is 420 m/s. At the latitude of Scotland it is still over 200 m/s. Israel launches its satellites westward for political reasons. And as you say for polar orbits not at all. They overfill stages with fuel for other reasons anyway.

  • Edward

    born01930 Asked: “For a highly inclined or polar orbit does location matter that much?

    It is always most efficient to launch from a latitude that corresponds with the inclination of the orbit.

    Some people mistakenly believe that an equatorial launch is most efficient, because of the eastward 420 m/s “throw” that Localfluff mentioned, and that is true for geostationary orbit (GEO) and other equatorial orbits. However, in order to put the payload into an inclined orbit, the orbital plane must be different.

    For a launch from the equator into an inclined orbit, a northward (or southward) velocity must be added that would not be necessary for a launch from the proper latitude. The additional fuel used is less than the total amount expended in the northward direction in order to reach that inclination (less fuel is needed to be expended in the eastward direction), but it is more than would be needed for a launch from that latitude, thus the maximum payload capacity is reduced when the orbital inclination is different than the launch latitude. Launching from near that latitude is better than launching from the equator.

    This is why they chose a launch site that is farther north, in northern Scotland, rather one that is in southern England.

    If the rocket already has more than enough capacity, then it does not matter where the launch site is, but as a general rule the rockets with greater capacity cost less than those with less capacity.

    Changing the orbital inclination once in orbit is especially fuel intensive (the math: change in velocity is the speed times twice the sine of the angle between the planes), which makes an equatorial launch to GEO very advantageous. Launching from KSC, for example, requires an orbital plane change of almost 30 degrees (velocity change is almost the same as the speed at the transfer orbit perigee, somewhere less than 3,000 m/s). (This is one of the technical flaws of the movie “Gravity.”)

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