Glasgow Prestwick Airport has signed an agreement with Houston Spaceport as it looks to strengthen its case to become the UK’s first launch site.
The South Ayrshire airport is developing plans for a spaceport that could see the first satellites and rockets launched from the UK.
The length of the runways and coastal take-off routes are said to be in Prestwick’s favour, with a feasibility study indicating it could be operational with £1 million of investment.
Leaders of Glasgow Prestwick Airport Spaceport met with a delegation from Houston Spaceport and the Rice Space Institute on Tuesday to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will allow both parties to share best practice for commercial space launch activities, operation, safety and environmental standards.
Houston Spaceport was granted a launch site licence last summer to operate horizontal space launch from its site at Ellington Airport in Texas, making it the tenth commercial spaceport in the US.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), UK Department for Transport (Dft) and UK Space Agency have still to set out the regulatory framework before UK spaceports can be established.
Arturo Machuca, general manager of Houston Spaceport, said: “The pioneers who first made inroads in space travel and space exploration began as contestants in a race, but soon realised that any hope of safely and efficiently reaching those goals would require productive and valuable partnerships.
“As we begin the next steps in this ambitious endeavour, partnerships like this with the Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport will benefit everyone, and will strengthen not only our assets and technology but also our resolve to make commercial space travel a viable and valuable tool for the future.”
Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport said it will benefit from Houston’s existing agreements with Nasa, which enable them to use Nasa technology, research and resources in a commercial environment.
The partnership could also lead to customer referrals between the two spaceports, with Prestwick customers who have requirements for equatorial/tropical launches referred to Houston and Houston customers looking for polar launches referred to Prestwick.
Glasgow Prestwick Airport Spaceport director Richard Jenner said: “We couldn’t wish for a more experienced partner than Houston.
“They have a long history of facilitating government-funded launches and it is exciting to be embarking on the move to commercial space launches alongside them.
“This partnership will hopefully expedite the establishment of a spaceport at Prestwick, as soon as we have the guidance from the CAA, Dft and UK Space Agency on what a regulatory framework will involve for UK spaceports. We would anticipate that we will have this clarity at some point in 2017.
“Glasgow Prestwick developing a spaceport in Scotland will bring huge economic benefits – up to £320 million towards our economy.
“This is before taking account of the further added value that the spaceport, our partners in the developing aerospace campus around us and wider science in technology industries in Scotland can gain from having access to NASA research and resources.”
Scottish Secretary David Mundell welcomed the MOU and said a spaceport framework will be published next year.
He said: “This is good news for the future of spaceport development in Scotland and I am pleased to see such momentum behind it.
“The UK Government’s Modern Transport Bill, to be published early next year, will help create the right legal framework for these new developments to progress.
“A British spaceport would represent a new frontier for our country.
“It would create skilled jobs in a cutting-edge industry and today’s announcement means Prestwick is a frontrunner to boldly go at the forefront of this exciting new era of travel.”