Prestwick Spaceport: Planning Application Notice Filed
South Ayrshire Council has started the process of submitting a formal planning application for its spaceport development in Prestwick. The Proposal of Application Notice —or POAN— is the first step in the planning process for Prestwick Spaceport and is an important move forward in applying for planning permission in early 2022.
This exciting stage follows the spaceport’s submission of an Environmental Screening Report last year which confirms that Prestwick’s space ambitions will not result in any significant adverse effects to the environment. These two steps together pave the way towards launching small satellites into orbit from Scotland.
Launches from Prestwick involve a method known as horizontal or air launch, in which an aircraft will carry a rocket containing small satellites far from shore to high above the ocean. Once safely above the densest layer of the atmosphere, the rocket leaves the aircraft, ignites its engines, and carries its payload to orbit. Until now, horizontal launch never been accessible anywhere in Europe.
This tried-and-tested launch method means that operations at Prestwick will consist mainly of processing rockets and their payloads, loading them into the launch aircraft, and then conventional aircraft take-off from the airport’s runways. The rockets will be launched in mid-air far from shore, safely out of range of any inhabited areas. This launch method has the dual benefits of minimising the impacts on Ayrshire residents and requiring minimal development of the airport itself, which is already well-equipped to handle air traffic and process cargo.
Prestwick aims to conduct its first rocket launch by the end of 2023, and this goal has been boosted by the Ayrshire Growth Deal that was signed earlier this year, a multi-million-pound funding package which will help secure Ayrshire’s future as a leading region in the UK’s aerospace and space engineering industries. £80 million of the Growth Deal is dedicated to boosting aerospace in Ayrshire, including developments at Prestwick Spaceport, as well as an Aerospace and Space Innovation Centre designed to keep Scotland at the forefront of emerging trends in aerospace.
Prestwick’s space ambitions have been further strengthened by its recently announced Memorandum of Understanding with Astraius, the leading UK-based commercial horizontal launch company. Astraius will launch rockets from a standard C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft and will be able to place small satellites into a variety of commercially useful orbits.
Small satellites are a Scottish speciality, with Glasgow based companies excelling in producing shoebox-sized CubeSats which can be used to collect imagery and sensory data from space. Glasgow already designs and manufactures more CubeSats than any city outside of the USA. This data allows scientists and commercial companies to explore the impacts of climate change, track deforestation, monitor illegal fishing, keep track of food supply chains, and support response efforts to natural disasters, to take only a handful of examples.
Launching satellites from Prestwick, along with the other measures in the Ayrshire Growth Deal, will create many opportunities beyond launch, such as establishing a high-tech space supply chain in the region to complement the existing aerospace cluster, creating as many as 4,000 jobs for the local economy. As well as bringing new highly skilled roles to the region, rocket launches from Scottish soil will provide the inspiration for young people to study STEM subjects and pursue high-tech careers. This exciting prospect builds on decades of aerospace heritage in and around Prestwick Airport.
Horizontal launch gives Ayrshire the opportunity to be at forefront of space launches not only in the UK, but in Europe as a whole. The public will be invited to contribute to the planning process at public consultation in February and March, where any questions about Prestwick Spaceport will be addressed and more details provided on opportunities for businesses and skills development.