A few sites around the world have launched most of the rockets which have ever been to space. Some of the most famous are Cape Canaveral in the USA, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guiana.
More satellites are always being launched into space, and rocket technology is more reliable today. This means that more countries are looking to open their own places to launch rockets. The UK is one of these countries.
Spaceports are just like airports or shipping ports, but for spacecraft. They are places that will launch, and maybe even land rockets. In the UK these will be small sites which are made to launch satellites into space. One day they may even take people on flights to the edge of our atmosphere.
The sites need to be far away from where people live in case there are any problems with the rockets. They also need to have good road links so that all the machines can get to the site. So far there are 7 sites across the UK planning on becoming spaceports:
- Shetland, Scotland – Saxavord Spaceport (v)
- Sutherland, Scotland – Space Hub Sutherland (v)
- Western Isles, Scotland – Spaceport 1 (v)
- Campbeltown, Scotland – Spaceport Machrihanish (h)
- Prestwick, Scotland – Prestwick Spaceport (h)
- Snowdonia, Wales – Spaceport Snowdonia (h)
- Newquay, England – Spaceport Cornwall (h)
Those with vertical launches (v) will take off straight up into the atmosphere and space. Those with horizontal launches (h) will take off like aeroplanes. They can climb much higher to launch satellites and take people on sub-orbital flights as they have rockets under the wings.
The UK is a good place for spaceports as it has a long coastline. This means that there is less danger to people. We also have a big space technology industry, building lots of satellites and instruments.
The UK is also quite far north on the globe. This makes it a good place to launch satellites which need to be on polar orbits. These satellites include those used for mapping the Earth, and for tracking the weather.
The UK saw its first launch from Spaceport Cornwall in January 2023. Over 2023 and 2024 the rest of the spaceports in the UK are set to start making launches too.