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back to article Does Britain really need a space port?

Everyone knows about Britain's soaraway space sector. It turns over £8bn a year – the same sort of money as the remaining automotive industry – it employs tens of thousands of people, and it's growing faster than the Chinese economy. And, famously, it has done all this without any significant government help. Some people think …

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Anonymous Coward

Err...

"...the same sort of money as the remaining automotive industry..."

We make more cars now than we have ever done.

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Re: Err...

and we now export more cars than we import. Car manufacturing is actually one of the best performing bits of our economy.

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Devil

Re: Err...

Apples and Oranges.

True, Britain is producing more "assembled units" than ever. It is _NOT_ something to be proud of.

However, once upon a time, the money from manufacturing was being spread wide around a large set of other industries from big smelters to small shops running in a single warehouse making door handles and most of that was in Britain. This "food chain" had a considerable impact on the overall GDP.

That is no longer the case. Current British car manufacturing is little besides assembly. Most of the components are built elsewhere - Germany, Spain, Portugal, Eastern Europe and Far East. The British part in it is to avoid the import duties and excise which most Eu countries still have on out-of-EU car imports. There is no food chain. It is only a "top" - the rest is elsewhere.

So the correct name should be "automotive assembly" industry, not "automotive industry". In any case, while the "size" of the car industry may look impressive on paper its impact on GDP is actually disproportionally small.

In any case, for the overall "good of the economy" it would have been better if Britain had none of the current assembly plants and let's say at least 10% of the parts manufacturing Germany (through the likes of Bosch) has nowdays. That is where all the development (and most of the margins) go and that creates a much wider and more "even" positive impact on the economy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Err... Automotive Industry

Err:: I think you'll find there's quite a bit of that food chain still left actually. And R&D, high value stuff.

And whilst we're on the subject (and totally off topic!) - Lewis has gotten his numbers wrong in the second sentence. I'm no expert, or economist, but an "8bn auto industry" just felt wrong to me, so I did a quick mental estimate and yep that confirmed it, so then I googled it and I think it just highlights a bit of sloppy googling by Mr Page: The UK auto sector makes about 8-10bn GBP pa added value/profit whatever you call it, but does more like >50bn in turnover.

Other than that, I thought an interesting article that I mainly agreed with (unlike all of LPs writings).

And no I don't work for BAeS, or the auto sector. But I do work in a world leading british high tech engineering/manufacturing outfit that employs a lot of people in the UK (and worldwide) and makes a hill of money.

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Kiss of death

> without any significant government help. ... Some people think that ought to change

Possibly the worst thing that could happen to the UK space industry (and by that I don't mean satellite TV) is government involvement. If they want to help, they can promote space science in education, make permits, planning and finance easier to obtain but otherwise STAY OUT OF THE WAY.

The UK has an unhappy history with space exploration - which was all government sponsored and fell prey to the whims of bean-counters far from the action. If there's to be any continued success or growth of the UK industry, it should learn from the lessons of the 60's and keep government interference at arms length.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Kiss of death

Actually, UK space industry has more to blame our politicians trusting the US to honour their promises than bean counters - read up on the Miles M.52 and how we ditched all of our papers only for the US to say "Oh, we have no research. Thanks for yours", which was a blatent lie because they had all of the groundwork from Von Braun! That put the UK behind in supersonic research by 10 years, we would have had the lightning aircraft a full decade earlier had we not destroyed our papers.

There is also the famous title of being the only country to develop a fully working satellite launch technology only to scrap the project. We gave that technology away too. Guess what it is today? It ended up in the ariane, helping to fix the problems the French had with developing their own launch technology.

And in fact the Concorde was also messed with by the Americans who wanted to stop the export of the planes, causing a huge dent to the UK economy (over £800million in 1977 money) and actually acting as one of the driving factors behind our having to go cap in hand to the IMF in the 70's.

Stop blaming bean counters and start blaming short sighted politicians who believe the words of other nations.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Kiss of death

Sorry, Lewis is right on this one. You need a government or governments to help fund this.

As he said, true R&D like the Skylon would require lots of up front capital and will have a long tail to profitability. However its the side products and other technical advances that would likely also help reduce the payback. Unfortunately, from a private investment firm... too much risk. Easier to sponsor the next Facebook or something. Better RoI.

But he is wrong on there not being a need for a runway.

Logistics can be a bitch. You want these ports to be far away from population centers as possible since accidents can happen and a couple of tonnes of burning space craft falling on a city... not good. Unless of course you're an ambulance chasing lawyer....

So either you build out a rail spur or you fly in your major supplies on transport aircraft.

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Ken MacLeod's wet dream

Use Alexandra Palace as a London terminal, reanimate the defunct ship building industry in western Scotland and Ireland as a manufacturing heartland for the space industry, and somebody start working on laser launchers, stat!

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Alien

Re: Ken MacLeod's wet dream

The gripping hand of the problem is, don't you need mucho fusion power for this kind of launcher?

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Re: Ken MacLeod's wet dream

Not as far as I know. Laser launchers rely on powerful lasers (which exist), high density steam propulsion (which exists, and Britain pioneered, albeit differently), and super-light, yet super strong materials to build the vehicle with (some exist already).

It's a more tractable problem than the space elevator, IMO.

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Angel

Of *course* we do, and there's only man for the job..

I'm, talking about Boris Johnson of course!

After all, this guy has managed to erect (can I say that?) a cablecar across the Thames before you could say "plannngpermission", and is well on his way to building an airport. What better way to compliment this aspiring Space Cadet other than by asking him to build a structure that will propel Britain to the Moon, or even Uranus. Or Cameron's.

Screw the recession - that's for Johnny Foreigner and His Euro-buddies! Let's put the Great back in Britain!

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Yup

Why the Severn estuary? Why not add a spacey bit to the proposed Boris Island airport?

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Re: Yup

The IoD report rules that out. They say the South East has too much air traffic and is too congested.

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And then there is the weather

One of the things that stops rocket launching is not being able to see the blasted thing on the pad / runway. The weather is just so much less cloudy/foggy/windy/crap in the desert. This isn't going to change here in the UK anytime soon. With or without the government declaring a drought.

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jai
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Re: And then there is the weather

So we build a space elevator and we don't need to launch, we just take the people and cargo up out of the atmosphere were the GB Space Platform is in orbit, and from there build and launch our craft.

I'm mean, c'mon! we built the Spitfires and won the Battle of Britain. We should be able to build a damn space elevator by now ffs!!!

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Happy

Re: And then there is the weather

Spitfires were made of balsa wood.

I'd like to see you make a space elevator out of that.

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Headmaster

Re: Spitfires were made of balsa wood

Err no. They weren't.

You may be thinking of the deHavilland Mosquito, but even that was rather more sophisticated construction (in many ways a forrunner of the sandwich construction of the lunar module) than you imply.

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Re: And then there is the weather

You design and build a decent enough vehicle, then weather will not stop a launch. I have only heard on one launch from Baikonur scubbed due to adverse weather conditions, and that was due to high winds. Cloud, rain, snow they'll launch whatever the weather. http://www.universetoday.com/90939/soyuz-launches-to-station-amid-swirling-snowy-spectacular/ and that was a manned launch!

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FAIL

Re: And then there is the weather

Great jai, build a space elevator!

Now, tell me, which site in equatorial Britain were you thinking of using?

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Headmaster

Re: And then there is the weather

ascension ?

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Re: Ascension

You've got to admit that Ascension is a great name for a place to put the space elevator.

In fifty years time people would think that the place was named after the technology.

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Go

Orbit?

Maybe you wouldn't need to go into orbit if you can provide fast sub-orbital flights from UK to the real spaceports near the equator.

If I was Branson, I'd have one eye on that (and the other on my Arthur Clarke novel)....

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Travelling to space is a waste of time. If space was full of rubber or fish I could see the point but there's nothing in space worth getting. That's why it's called space, whoever came up with the name did a very good job.

When the Americans went to the moon during the 60s all they bought back were some rocks, probably as a last thought, like if I go to the shops and can't find anything I want, I make sure to at least buy *something*, anything so it isn't a complete waste of time.

Then there is the "International Space Station" they built which despite the profound sounding name, is basically just a big room floating in space. Sometimes people visit the floating space room, then they come home.

Seriously a waste of time. Nothing any good came of going into space. Sure people will point at technologies and claim it was SPACE that did it, but no it was people who invented them and they could have done that on Earth. Lock 1000 scientists in any room for 10 years and they will come up with stuff. the room doesn't need to be in space.

Then they send robots to drive over other planets. What do they find? More rocks. Different colored rocks. They can't even bring those rocks back though because they forgot to give the robot arms.

The only point of space I can think of is as extra storage to put stuff, like my friend Denny was moving out last weekend and his parents had too much stuff to fit in the removal van because of all the stuff they had bought from Ikea. More and more stuff is being made and bought and a lot of it doesn't ever go away. So one day the Earth will be so full of sofas and tables and chairs that people will be cramped and at that point there is a real purpose for space. Not today though.

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Space exploration has more than paid for itself with comms satellites and GPS alone. We're wasting time and money on lots of things. Space just isn't one of them.

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Satellites are not space things, they are really high up in the SKY.

ITS NOT SPACE

NOT PROPER SPACE

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Two Arthur C. Clarke quotes for the price of one

"We cannot predict the new forces, powers, and discoveries that will be disclosed to us when we reach the other planets and set up new laboratories in space. They are as much beyond our vision today as fire or electricity would be beyond the imagination of a fish."

"If man survives for as long as the least successful of the dinosaurs - those creatures whom we often deride as nature's failures - then we may be certain of this: for all but a vanishingly brief instant near the dawn of history, the word 'ship' will mean - 'spaceship.'"

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Thumb Up

Or a Douglas Adams quote:

"Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans."

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RE: NomNomNom

""International Space Station" they built which despite the profound sounding name, is basically just a big room floating in space."

Your commentary on Space coincided exactly with my thoughts, with the exception of the "big room floating in space. I, too, see a big room floating in space, but my big room is filled to the rafters with missiles of all sizes and shapes and warheads.

With the missile shield contracting around Russia, skuttlebutt is the Russian have rented a room in the Chinese Space Station to counter the negative impact of the US/NATO anti-ballistic missile system and the Chinese are helping them unload crates of rockets right now.

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Gimp

RE: Travelling to space is a waste of time.

"If space was full of rubber or fish I could see the point"

What, kind of a like a fetish club come fishmongers? That'd be awesome - zero-g rubber orgy and a fish supper - count me in!

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Whenever somebody asks why we should bother figuring out how to get into space and to other worlds I just mention the dinosaurs. We could focus all our time and resources on solving the problems we have here on earth but when that asteroid hits we'll still be just as fucked.

...I wonder if all the accounts that upvote nomnomnom miraculously share the same ip address?

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Re:the same ip address?

Or the same IQ:?

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@nomnomnom

Top trolling sir, +1 would read another.

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RE "...I wonder if all the accounts that upvote nomnomnom miraculously share the same ip address?"

No, we just thought the joke was amusing.

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Anonymous Coward

So by that logic......

.....I work in the Construction industry because I bought - and continue to live in - a house.

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It's primarily a matter of us buying satellites?

"It's primarily a matter of us buying satellites, mainly from other countries, and using them to sell multimedia content – mainly to ourselves."

BskyB/Sky or Freesat don't buy ANY satellites. They rent bandwidth from Eutelsat and SES Astra.

Pay Satellite TV isn't really to do with Space. Ducts are a really important because Virgin Media/ Cable-TV uses them. But unlike Sky, Virgin Cable actually has significant infrastructure in terms of cable and fibre. Also Virgin own the set-boxes and Modems. Sky Boxes are the customer's property.

So it's really 1Billion, not 8 Billion.

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Anonymous Coward

Slightly OT

Isn't the atmosphere deeper at the equator? Presumably the extra shove from the "Eastern push" more than compensates for the extra fuel spent wading through it?

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Re: Slightly OT

Might be. Though probably not as significant as the 'eastern push' as you put it.

What I'd be more worried about is the way that Skylon's trajectory got steeper as it climbed, not flatter. Whoever made the film doesn't know what an orbit is.

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Re: Slightly OT

Skylon gets as much speed as it can whilst still in the atmosphere to take advantage of "free" atmospheric fuel oxidant and then goes up to clear the resistance of the reminder of the atmosphere. The animation shows the early part of the climb to orbit which would be nearly vertical just like the climb to orbit of a conventional rocket.

Incidentally I am puzzled by one aspect of the animation. Skylon is shown travelling east-to-west over Capri, Southern Italy and Sicily. I thought west-to-east orbits were energetically preferable.

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Alien

South America

Even the Russians are using the "European" Space port in French Guiana. Presumably that's where the UK should put a launch pad if it's needed.

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Re: South America

No, the missed point about a usefull sub-orbital flight (as opposed to geostationary satellite launch) is that it goes from somewhere people are, to somewhere people want to be.

I can see flights from, say, UK to Australia (and vice-versa) in 2-3 hours being very popular if the cost was vaguely tolerable.

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Coat

Re: South America

"Even the Russians are using the "European" Space port "

Well actually I think that the Europeans are using the European space port, just that they are buying Russian rockets to launch from there. The Russians are very much interested in launching rockets from Russia, and hence are starting to build their own launch facilities in Russia (as opposed to renting one in Kazakhstan).

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Go

Africa

" ... but in general it's safe to say that if the human race starts to build spaceports that are actually ports - termini through which serious amounts of people and payload move - in the near future, they are likely to be near the Equator, not in Britain."

Maybe that's why China is so interested in investing in Africa:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/05/11/mugabe_praises_chinese_tech_investment/

Maybe the UK space sector (the £1Bn part, not Sky) should be investigating development in Commonwealth countries? They don't have to be in Africa, either. Jamaica, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago aren't that far from French Guyana. Granted these countries aren't massive in terms of area, so huge runways for Skylons to use might be a problem.

Or am I missing something?

Colin

Go icon because we need "to boldly go" (or "go boldly") and get the human race off this rock.

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Re: Africa

What about Ascension Island? Close to the equator (closer than Kennedy) and already has a military airport runway capable of handling big aircraft (Vulcans and Victors during the Falklands war) and has NASA and ESA tracking facilities. And still British controlled, sounds good to me.

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Alien

Serious amounts of people and payload

And where exactly would they be going to- do they know something we don't? (Pic related)

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Everyone knows about Britain's soaraway space sector.

Apparently not. As far as I was aware this began and ended at the goodies episode "Invasion of the Moon Creatures http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4JsNetyS6M

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Titles are for toffs.

Lewis is again missing the point, 'suborbital space tourism' is about the next level of conspicuous consumption, plus they get to REALLY look down on the rest of us.

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Happy

A good place to ascend to orbit...

...how about Ascension Island? It's roughly as close to the equator as Kourou. It's surrounded by ocean too, so less chance of pissing off the Germans or Scandinavians if something goes wrong.

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Space-X vs Skylon

Skylon is promising roughly half the cost/kg of the Space-X projects. So it's a long way from being a mad idea.

Of course there are questions about how achievable that is financially, and how practical it is at all. No one is going to want to live under the flight-path of a >Mach 6 take-off. And H2 might become a lot cheaper with cheap solar - or it might not.

But the technology obviously leads to cheap hypersonic travel, which would be a game changer and would give the UK a real lead. It also would put the project into a completely different market to Space-X, which is very much a traditional tech shop with a traditional business model of monetising R&D and infrastructure originally paid for with public money.

Considering that the UK is the only country to have had the beginnings of a satellite launch industry *which it then threw away* dismissing Skylon and the rest of the UK's space sector seems short-sighted and unimaginative.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Space-X vs Skylon

The cost of hydrogen gas isn't in generating it; we create more than we could ever use as a byproduct of processing hydrocarbons (the hint is in the first half of the name). It has to be stored under pressure at cryogenic temperatures and poses an extreme explosion risk, so it's not the easiest fuel to use. However once you do start using it, it will massively outperform kerosene. It's got an energy density by mass three times that of kerosene (but only 1/6th by volume under pressure, which is where the problems arise), and because it's cryogenic, you can use the hydrogen fuel as engine coolant. The space shuttle and ariane 5 main engines do this to stop their engine nozzles melting, and it's exactly how the Saber engine in Skylon is going to liquefy oxygen from the air.

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Trollface

Yeah right

"the biggest player in the UK space economy ... without BSkyB it [UK space] would be half the size, probably less."

Yeah that'll be the 10k staff in the $ky call-centres

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