UK spaceport ‘within five years’ – Minister

Launching the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy at Westminster, David Willetts set out a vision of Public-Private Partnerships to fund a big expansion in Britain’s  hi-tech industries.

The Planck satellite

To convince what he called ‘the tight-fisted buggers at the Treasury‘ to invest in the plan, Willetts intends to show how taxpayers’ money will be matched or exceeded by commercial investment. The SIG strategy promises to create 100,000 new skilled jobs in Britain by 2020.


Interviewed for the PassWord with Peter Warren Show on, David Willetts said he would urge businessman Sir Richard Branson to locate the Spaceport for his commercial space tours with Virgin Galactic in the UK – perhaps in an airbase in the North of Scotland that is no longer required by the RAF. And the Minister predicts excitement around the new Schools Challenge with leader Major Tim Peake – the first British astronaut for 20 years to go to the International Space Station in 2014. David Willetts extract


And the Minister – who works in the Department of Business Innovation and Science – promised a minimum of red tape and financial incentives to SMEs who are prepared to invest in space-driven products and services.

Major Tim Peake will become the first British astronaut for 20 years to go into orbit on the ISS in 2015

Major Tim Peake will be the first British astronaut for 20 years to go into orbit on the ISS in 2015

The UK is sending a man into space again for the first time in 20 years. RAF Major Tim Peake will travel to the International Space Station in 2015 . Meanwhile he is launching a Schools Challenge to encourage young people to study Science Technology Engineering and Maths.



Many of those services are based on surveillance using spy satellites that orbit the Earth. Commercial applications include helping farmers to save money and minimise pollution by accurately targeting pesticides at exactly the right time and place, using data beamed down from space. Insurance companies plan to use ‘persistent surveillance’ to assess risks from climate change – for example, flooding or typhoons like the Phillipines disaster. Satellite images of the seas can pinpoint hazards such as illegal fishing or jellyfish invading the water inlets of a nuclear power station. To drive the market in satellite services still harder, the UK Space Agency is urging local government to use ‘spy in the sky’ technology to promote efficiency. Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director for Growth at the Space Agency, explains how it could save public money..Catherine Mealing-Jones UK Space Agency extract

Already there is a ‘cluster’ of hi-tech companies around the Catapult offices in Hanwell, next to the Large Collider. Catapult is the ‘business accelerator’ working with SMEs to develop applications for data from space satellites and experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS). Willetts and Mealing-Jones aim to make it grow, and to build clusters in other regions. Now all they have to do is convince the Treasury and big business to match-fund it.