Free of the European Union, the UK wants its seat in the space explorers club back, either by sending satellites into Earth orbit or by funding an innovative project that would solve the eternal fuel-to-weight equation of the spacecraft: autophagic rockets.
“Brexit has provided a real stimulus to make us think about what we really need as a country in space exploration,” UK Space Agency Chief Executive Graham Turnock said in an interview.
To launch rockets and satellites, an area of Cornwall Airport Newquay, Cornwall’s main commercial airport, is receiving £22m ($28m) in investment. It is worth mentioning that other sites with potential are also being adapted, such as one on the north coast of Scotland.
Always engaged in European and American projects, the British space program was never a reality – at least, not after 1971, with the Black Arrow. That was the name of the rocket developed during the 1960s by the British space program and which rose only four times into the sky, between 1969 and 1971 – the last time, carrying the first and, until now, only Brazilian-made satellite, the Prospero . Highly expensive for so few results, the program was eventually cancelled.
So it was with redoubled enthusiasm that business entrepreneurs received the news that the government had bought 45 percent of OneWeb, a bankruptcy satellite operator, for £500 million ($647 million).
Even on the bad side, the company was a main player in the most competitive segment of the aerospace market: the so-called satellite constellations, launched into low Earth orbit to provide broadband internet to remote regions.
Today, the company’s satellites are built in Florida, through a partnership with the American Airbus, but what is expected is that, in the future, they will leave a factory on British soil.
Still small, the British space team has at least one player with a big bank account and ditto – millionaire Richard Branson and Virgin Orbit.
The company will use a modified Boing 747 (the Cosmic Girl) to bring LaucherOne into Earth’s stratosphere in 2 years, whose satellite payload will be placed in low orbit. The plane and other equipment under test are in the Mojave Desert in the US; Branson plans to repatriate everything with £7.35 million ($9.51 million) of aid from the UK Space Agency.
snack along the way
This year, the space budget is £556 million (almost $720 million), up 10% from 2019, but still very close to NASA’s more than $22 billion.
Even so, the government is investing in revolutionary projects, like a self-consuming engine on its way to the planet’s orbit. The project, by the University of Glasgow, has a “simple concept: burn the tanks too,” explained aeronaut engineer Patrick Harkness.
He said, “The body of the rocket will be a solid fuel tube. The entire assembly will be consumed, from the bottom up, by an engine that will vaporize the fuel tube, add an oxidizer, and burn the mixture to create thrust. consumed the entire body of the rocket by the time it reaches orbit; only the payload will remain”.