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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Joke

Build high

Couldn't we just build a giant winch, like they use for gliders? Simply winch launch your spacecraft. Granted the winch would need to be big and quite high.

I see no downsides to my plan and will be legging down the patent office in the morning,

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Re: Build high

Slingshot

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Re: Build high

I see the Joke Alert icon, but just in case - I'll save you the walk

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator

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Living in a town where real satellites are build ..

I happen to know some people who are in R&D as well as in production. And from them I know that they hope for a runway launch like SpaceShipOne but bigger.

Especially the smaller satellites for lower orbits are heavier then needed for their purpose to survive the first 30 seconds until after the second stage ignites. Eliminating the first stage and launching the second one from a plane would help building much cheaper satellites.

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the joyride business

"There has to be a serious risk for the whole sub-orbital 'space tourism' sector that its possible wealthy client base will realise at some point that you can see a black sky from a balloon and you can experience free fall and float about weightlessly in the (much bigger) cabin of an ordinary aeroplane (that's what actual space agencies do for zero-G training and experiments, in fact)..."

All of that is true, but, still... only going into space is really like going into space. It's a unique experience far beyond high-altitude ballooning, or a ride in the Vomit Comet.

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Re: the joyride business

A lot has been made of the "joyride" aspect but no one has mentioned the science side. It seems that Virgin has already taken money from labs wanting to fly experiments and test equipment in microgravity. Without the suborbitals the other ways are 30 second chunks. in a vomit comet or try to get a space on ISS or some other satellite.

These suborbital beasties do have a serious application.

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Re: the joyride business

Good point. Most folks don't talk much about suborbital because it's not "glamourous", I guess, though there's plenty of research that could be done without actually having to go into orbit (as I recall, Shepard and Grissom's Mercury suborbital flights had something like five minutes of zero-g at the top of the trajectory).

Mind you, if through some outrageous luck, I found myself offered the chance at a suborbital jaunt aboard SS2, I'd be on it like a big dog.

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Mushroom

Location Location Location.

We still own the Falklands, right ? is that close enough to the equator for a serious launch platform ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Location Location Location.

It's as far south from the equator as Birmingham is north.

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Go

re: location location location

Falklands are too far south (roughly as far south of the equator as London is north of it). No use.

What about Montserrat, Saint Helena or Ascension islands? Saint Helena is building an airport, and Ascension is basically military only. Montserrat may be a little too volcanic.

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Devil

For some reason I've now got an image of the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks floating around in space like the baddies at the start of Superman II. Better that than Rupert hijacking the moon and turning it into a Moonraker-style base anyway.

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Beagle 2

Apart from becoming a Hollywood A-lister after its appearance in Transformers. Beagle 2 was an outstanding success! But despite that, Hell-yes we should have a space port, how cool would that be to go and watch!

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Polar orbits

Lewis' analysis is spot on. Space ports are just plain silly, and of themselves provide little to no value. Sealaunch simply use a converted oil platform. Building a sodding huge runway with no technology on the horizon to use it is "rain following the plough" in the extreme.

A nick pick however. Not all launches are to geosynchronous orbit. A great many are to polar orbits (the majority of Earth observation craft) and these require the exact opposite of an equatorial launch location. They benefit from a launch from as high a latitude as possible.

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Does Britain really need a space port?

Of course it does.

But it needs to be a 'proper' British one: built entirely in black & white, presided over by a bluff handlebar-moustacheo'd old cove called "Whiskers Greatrix". The astronauts should be plucky, square-jawed pipe-smoking astronautical types with names like "Jocelyn", who talk of "wizard prangs" on the moon and cruise down to Brighton at the weekend, with their best girl [probably a Daphne or a Muriel], along empty A-roads, in an open-top sports car.

[There'll be a special prize for the smart boy or girl who can pick the bones of an obscure cultural reference out of that lot!]

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Boffin

Re: Does Britain really need a space port?

Is Professor Jocelyn Peabody all that obscure? I don't remember her having a particularly square jaw, though her eyebrows could certainly have done with some prettying up to compete with Daniel McGregor Dare's...

Leaping lizards, Dig! Fire up the old Gyrocar and let's get down to Spacefleet HQ at Dover. I need the old face-fungus trimmed or the Mekon'll never let me hear the end of it!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Does Britain really need a space port?

Nice try but no cigar. Actually, I bowled a bouncer by mentioning Jocelyn [man's name] when I meant Godfrey. Feel free to have another go, on the house.

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Re: Does Britain really need a space port?

"The Domes of Pico", by Hugh Walters? I admit I had to look it up, but I remembered some of the names from reading it years ago. The text is at: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/gaudeamus/walters/02pico/pico.txt

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Re: Does Britain really need a space port?

B'wahh ha ha ha ha ha. Good one!

I'm somehow imagining something like a combination of KSC combined with a generous dollop of an old Dan Dare comic book. And absolutely, Britain's answer to Gene Krantz would be some gruff old silver-haired dude in a raggy wool sweater, chomping a pipe and with the biggest goddamn' walrus moustache you've ever seen.

The traditional American astronaut breakfast -- at least up through the Apollo era -- was some variation of steak and eggs with black coffee and orange juice. I don't know enough about English food to hazard a guess here... although whenever a British Shuttle finishes "rolling out" after landing, I'd guess the CDR's first words to Mission Control would be something like "well, chaps, I believe a cup of tea is indicated..."

Oh, and don't forget that along with your spaceport, you'd need an astronaut hangout. In Cocoa Beach, near KSC, it was this scraggly bar -- I forget the name -- where the astronauts all slobbed out, ate really cheap greasy food and slammed down many beers before climbing back into their Corvettes and roaring off. Your British astronaut hangout couldn't really be a normal "pub", it'd have to be some scruffy old joint with lots of old Stones records in the jukebox, and the bartender is some trash-mouthed old RAF guy who's full of stories about his Avro Vulcan days.

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Skylon

Instead of building a another bloody railway, the Govt should instead invest all that money in Skylon and get Britain back to be being a world leader in this kind of stuff.

If/when built and assuming it does what the guys reckon it will, Skylon has the potential to change the world.

"Build it and they will come"

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Does Britain really need a space port?

No, we need an airport. A really big one.

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Anonymous Coward

Why do I get the impression that if the government has ANYTHING to do with the building of a space port, launches will end up resembling some of my less successful attempts trying to reach orbit in the Kerbal Space Program...

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Boffin

Interestingly I'd have thought REL would have been dead set *against* governement involvment

Getting *someone* to fund the Skylon spaceport was *always* one of the things I thought was risky about the project. It's a serious chunk of cash which *only* pays off if Skylon sales happen and it has to be in place *before* that happens.

Speculation is that the spec for the runway would be no worse than that of the B36 runways built in the US to carry its nuclear deterrent in the 1940's Thick (IIRC about 5' of steel reinforced concrete) and 15000' long. Uncommon but not *beyond* the state of the art.

Lewis fails to note 2 things which have a *serious* impact on the idea.

1) Skylon is *reusuable* You buy one, use it the use it *again*. Buying an F9 right now is a one shot deal. Sure they are busting their a**es to make it at least *partly* reusable but that's still got a long way to run.

2)Virgin is *not* the only player in the sub-orbital game. Xcor aerospace are getting there. While sub-orbital is a *long* way from orbital it's a pretty good place to start a *small* fully orbital launcher from. They estimate that between those "joy rides" testing of zero gee experimental kit (for deployment to orbit in a satellite or the ISS) and acting as a launch base for (small) sat launches will make a viable business model.

A brief note on propellants. The cost of *all* propellants (as a proportion of the *total* launch cost) is *literally* so small as to be an accounting error. Elon Musk stated the propellant bill for an F9 launch is about $150k. The *whole* launch cost is about $60m, so the propellant is 0.25%. The *most* expensive fuels are the storable hydrazines. The cost c$60/lb and would make quite viable WMD's in their own right

A brief note on the SABRE engine. It does *not* liquify air. It "deeply pre-cools" the air. That "slight" difference saves a hell of a lot of Hydrogen and is one of the things that makes the idea work (worked out by Alan Bond in the mid 80s on his Sinclair Spectrum according to the 1989 article in Spaceflight).

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Money Men?

"That said, Reaction Engines believes it will need a cool $12bn to make a Skylon fly: and it remains unclear that it can pay such an investment back on the time scales that money men demand. "

Weird isn't it? These 'money men' seem to thing that waiting over a century to get their money back from their Facebook shares is perfectly ok.

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Gold badge

"That said, Reaction Engines believes it will need a cool $12bn to make a Skylon fly: and it remains unclear that it can pay such an investment back on the time scales that money men demand. "

That statement sounds *very* speculative by Lewis. REL have always been *very* conservative on costs (IE *worst* case) and on ROI

The "money men" are expecting to talk up the stock price further then dump them on the next bunch of buyers. It's not their problem how Facebook manages to make the growth needed (either in terms of revenue per user or increasing the number of users).

Note the current round of REL funding is looking to get £200m providing the results are favorable. One point REL have always been very quiet on is the way that figure has been lowered by the work they have done over the years. The cutting edge nature of both the engines and the structure suggest that even the *fairly* modest investments made so far (c£60m) have lowered the level of uncertainties a long way.

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Great idea but...

Make sure that you get hooked up with right company. The one that we that we chose here in Oklahoma, Rocketplane, didn't quite pan out. Have a former SAC base with great runway but got wrong partner.

http://www.okspaceport.state.ok.us/spaceportfacilities.html

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Headmaster

French Guiana

Is actually part of France (in terms of administration, not geography, obviously).

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UK Space Port......

"Milton Keynes space port. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

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Astra sats

The new Astra constellation is mostly being built by EADS Astrium, so a good bit of the money will be coming to the UK.

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spaceport in Britain?

Mind you, being a Yank, I'm spoiled by living someplace where we have open space out the ass, but I've seen maps and satellite imagery of The Isles, and it doesn't look like you guys really have a lot of room for a proper spaceport. Aside from real estate for launch complexes, pads, servicing areas and such, you'd need to have plenty of clear downrange for spent stages to fall. I mean, c'mon... a spent booster stage falling on Stonehenge? That'd be all you frickin' need.

Besides, don't you guys already have something like three or four major airports pretty much taking up the real estate you'd need for a spaceport? Then, there's that whole Equator thing.

Also, what about Australia? Have your space big-shots considered swinging a deal with them, or has someone already thought of that? Australia's got plenty of flat open space, downrange out the ass, and really good beer -- although they may still be pissed off about the whole Skylab fragment thing.

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