According to the UK Space Agency, the government aims to enable Commercial Spaceflight from UK spaceports by 2020. As privatised commercial space travel moves closer towards becoming a reality, buildingspecifier takes a look at what role the construction industry will play in delivering spaceports throughout the country.

What is a spaceport?

A spaceport (or cosmodrome) is a site for launching and receiving spacecraft. The word spaceport, and even more so cosmodrome, has traditionally been used for sites that are capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around Earth or on interplanetary trajectories.

Major spaceports often include more than one launch complex, which can be rocket launch sites adapted for different types of launch vehicles. For launch vehicles with liquid propellant, suitable storage facilities and, in some cases, production facilities are necessary. On-site processing facilities for solid propellants are also common.

A spaceport may also include runways for takeoff and landing of aircraft to support spaceport operations, or to enable support of HTHL or HTVL winged launch vehicles.

Making UK spaceports a reality

So the UK has set its sights upon being the best place in Europe for space flight operations, now it is time to put its money where its mouth is. After all, sending humans and satellites into space requires effort, money, dedication and sacrifice.

The target to deliver commercial space flight from UK spaceports by 2020 is equally as dependent on the construction industry as it is on scientific and technological advancements. Without cutting edge sites being constructed or repurposed for the purpose of space travel, there will be no space travel. In order to tackle this issue, the UK Space Agency is offering grant funding of up to £10 million (possibly even more in exceptional cases) to encourage those wishing to develop spaceport operations. Proposals must be submitted by joint enterprises, consisting of at least one potential UK spaceport and one small-satellite launch or sub-orbital flight operator. Applicants need to propose a business plan on how they intend to launch small satellites or sub-orbital flights, including space tourism, microgravity flights or spaceplanes, from the UK by 2020. All applications for this funding must be submitted by 28 April 2017.

Once completed, the new Spaceflight Bill will expand further upon the regulatory framework for building and operating spaceports on British soil.

Mike Pocock is a planning law expert from Pinsent Masons, an international law firm which specialises in the energy, infrastructure, financial services, real estate and advanced manufacturing and technology sectors. He commented “The space industry represents a huge opportunity for the UK, with potentially significant economic benefits.
“The reality of spaceflight from the UK is closer than many think, and there is currently momentum to develop a number of ‘spaceports’ which will be critical infrastructure if the UK is to be able to send satellites as well as, potentially, space tourists into space.”

“Applications for grant funding by potential spaceports and operators were made earlier this year to UK Space, and the results of these are expected later this summer. The timing of the announcement in the Queen’s Speech therefore could not be better. These are exciting times for the UK space industry.”

In an interview with the BBC, Chairman of umbrella group UKSpace Richard Peckham, said “The UK Space Industry faces an incredibly challenging time as the country navigates its way out of the European Union.”

“For the UK industry to thrive in this new environment, it is essential that the whole sector: government, academia and industry, continue to work in partnership with a steady focus on innovation and growth, with government ready to procure and promote British products and services.”

There was much food for thought in the Queen’s speech, which took place today. Touching on key areas of our sector, on subjects such as housing skills, energy and infrastructure, the speech piqued the interest of construction professionals throughout. Buildingspecifier takes a look at what industry experts have to say in response:


The Government’s Immigration Bill must ensure that British business has access to sufficient levels of EU workers or major construction projects will grind to a halt, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said in response to the Queen’s Speech.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “In terms of today’s Queen’s Speech and the focus of British business, all eyes are on the Immigration Bill. As suspected, we now know that the Bill will end the free movement of people but that begs the question: what will replace it? The Government has not set out what our post-Brexit immigration system will look like but it is crucial that key strategic industries, such as construction, are able to draw upon sufficient numbers of EU workers. EU tradespeople have come to play a crucial part in plugging the industry’s chronic skills gap and if the ability to employ non-UK workers is curtailed, the Government’s housing and infrastructure plans will be no more than a pipe dream.”

“Already, we’re starting to see a dramatic drop off in immigration from the kinds of countries that have typically supplied the construction sector with skilled talent. Statistics released today by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory show a 35% fall in the number of national insurance numbers being issued to nationals from the ‘EU8’ countries that joined the EU in 2004. A lack of certainty over what rights EU citizens will have in the country post-Brexit will undoubtedly be a factor behind this decline. Given the ongoing need to recruit from abroad, we need a clear message from the Government that non-UK skilled workers are welcome now, and will be welcome come what May.”

“The sector stands ready to work with MPs to shape the Immigration Bill into something that serves the economy and provides vital human resource to British business. The construction industry is also ready to significantly upscale the training and recruitment of UK construction workers so we welcome the recommitment to a proper industrial strategy and high skilled learning. In the longer term, being able to train more of our own workforce is without question part of the solution to our enduring skills deficit. Nevertheless, the Government must be pragmatic and introduce an immigration flexible system that allows skilled EU nationals to work in the UK with relative ease.”


Responding to the Queen’s Speech, RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck said “We welcome the Government’s commitment to a new modern Industrial Strategy. Wind, wave and tidal energy are new industries which are already creating highly-skilled, high-paid jobs, exporting around the world. Renewables can and should be the engine room of the Government’s flagship Industrial Strategy, driving our low-carbon economy.

“The need to reduce energy bills for consumers was also rightly highlighted in the Queen’s Speech. Renewable energy technologies are making record-breaking cost reductions, and clean energy tariffs are now competing with traditional low-cost tariffs to provide consumers with lower bills – we should continue this trend.

“It was important that the Government reaffirmed its strong support for action on climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement. President Trump’s decision to turn his back on this has been greeted with bafflement and incomprehension in the US energy sector, as the global renewable energy market is worth $290 billion a year. The UK Government is showing leadership on energy policy and environmental issues which matter to the majority of the British public”.


Responding to today’s Queen’s Speech, Chartered Institute of Housing chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE said “We need an ambitious, long-term plan to tackle our housing crisis so it is encouraging to hear the government’s commitment to get more homes built and to bring forward the measures outlined in its housing white paper.

“But it’s not just about building more homes, it’s about building more affordable homes for people on lower incomes. We believe more investment is urgently needed in genuinely affordable homes to rent. Figures released this week revealed that the number of homes for social rent built with government funding dropped by 51 per cent in 2016/17. One of the new government’s priorities should be rebalancing the housing budget – affordable housing currently accounts for just 16 per cent of total direct investment.”

She added “CIH has been calling for a ban on letting agent fees so it’s good to see draft legislation being brought forward to tackle this issue.”

Terrie Alafat said the continuing uncertainty over the future funding of supported housing risks undermining government moves to provide appropriate services for our ageing population. She said “We are still waiting for the consultation on the government’s proposal to extend the Local Housing Allowance cap to supported housing, which is designed for people who need extra support, such as older people or people with a mental or physical disability. It’s absolutely vital that the government moves quickly on this issue. Supported housing schemes provide homes for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and our ageing population means that demand is only increasing. We know that many supported housing providers will have put sites on hold while we wait for a decision on future funding and continuing uncertainty could be very damaging.”


Richard Threlfall, KPMG’s UK Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction comments “This is a critical investment that will enable Britain to build the infrastructure needed to rebalance our country’s economic wealth.

“Today’s announcement connects more of our major cities to a high speed rail network, and takes us a step closer to creating a Northern Powerhouse.

“The commitment recognises the dismal state of links between the heart of the UK and its Northern cities today. This should finally turn the tide and help the North regain its historic prominence in the UK economy.

“Government, local political and business leaders now need to come together and develop the connectivity that HS2 offers into an overall vision for the development of the North.
“The objective is clear – a vibrant, successful and integrated northern economy that our children will be proud to inherit. Today’s announcement brings us an important step closer to that.”