The UK government will be offering 10 million pounds worth of grants to support commercial spaceflight in Britain.

Ministers plan to introduce legislation to create a legal framework for commercial space travel firms, as the operation of launch systems such as rocket planes by these firms are not currently allowed in the UK.

The Spaceflight Bill is expected to be tabled later this month.

In order to qualify for these grants, consortia will be expected to show that they will “develop spaceflight capabilities, such as building spaceport infrastructure or adapting launch vehicle technology for use in the UK.”

Feasibility studies have already identified aerodromes across Britain that could be suitable as spaceports.

The move comes after ministers determined that space could be an important sector to bring balance to an economy increasingly dominated by the service sector. They called satellites one of “eight great technologies” key to creating growth opportunities. To support this new source of growth, the UK has invested in the industry by way of the European Space Agency.

Given the increasing availability of affordable launch systems for satellites, the industry may be approaching a rapid increase in earning potential. Science Minister Jo Johnson said, when announcing the grants, that the spaceflight industry could be worth roughly 25 billion bounds over the next 20 years.

“Spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation,” said Johnson.

“It provides opportunities to expand into new markets, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting local economies across the country. That is why it is one of the key pillars of our Industrial Strategy. We want to see the UK space sector flourish, that is why we are laying the groundwork needed for business to be able to access this lucrative global market.”

A number of spaceflight consortia are moving toward the use of horizontal launch systems, in which rockets are carried by planes to a high altitude where they are released to enter into orbit. These launches would occur over oceans for safety reasons. Ministers have also not ruled out the use of vertical lift-off rockets.

So far, the business focus of such endeavors revolves around launching satellites – though tourist flights on sub-orbital rocket planes could be possible as well.

The government is moving into a role as a faciliatory instead of the central force behind spaceflight, relying on business consortia to choose a spaceport site and develop practical plans for launches. This trend is a reversal of expectations just 3 years ago in 2014, when it was expected that the government would pick the best coastal aerodrome site to become a spaceport. The move ensure that large amounts of public funds are not used in these endeavors.

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