Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

'Space flights from Scotland' bid

'Spaceliner' Virgin Galactic is designed to rocket passengers at 3,000mph to an altitude of 70 miles

Space tourism flights could blast off from Scotland under Government plans to overhaul the space regulatory regime, science minister David Willetts has said.

Mr Willetts, launching a consultation on the UK Space Agency's strategy for 2011-15, said the Government is working to "tackle the burden of regulation" surrounding space activity, which has "grown up almost by chance" and "without a coherent overview".

He said: "We have started the process of starting to rationalise our regulation so as to enable Britain to be an effective competitor in the space scene."

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, the world's first commercial "spaceliner", began test flights last year on craft designed to rocket passengers at 3,000mph to an altitude of 70 miles.

More than 410 people have placed deposits of at least £20,000 for the flights, which could begin to take off from Spaceport America, New Mexico, in the next two years.

The Government proposals would clear the way for such flights to take off from RAF Lossiemouth.

"Space planes" such as those in development at Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines could, in the longer term, lift off from any UK airport.

Mr Willetts said: "It would be great to see vehicles being launched from the UK again - to see Virgin Galactic launched from Lossiemouth, for example. The Reaction Engines project would be another candidate we hope might benefit from our new regime for novel space vehicles."

Mr Willetts could not give an exact timetable for changing regulation but said: "We're already talking to Virgin Galactic. I think it's fair to say Richard Branson is very pleased with the way through, so now we're going to have to work through the detail. I hope we can have the new regime ready in good time.

"There should be no regulatory obstacle for him to operate from the UK if he decides to do that as his own commercial decision."

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