The UK could seek to build a spaceport for commercial use, a government minister has said.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said the UK would aggressively seek to take advantage of the growth in space tourism - and that there was "an opportunity for us to seize the advantage in terms of both technology and regulation. Space tourism and commercial space are just beyond the horizon".
Any spaceport - purely theoretical at this stage - would involve working with Europe and the European Space Agency, Willetts suggested.
He said: "We will be working with Justine Greening at the Department for Transport, to determine how the UK… can best position itself to take advantage of space plane activities.
"We'll be exploring the type of certification needed for space crafts and identifying the essential characteristics of an operational spaceport."
At a gathering of space officials and businesses at the Farnborough International Airshow, Willetts said space was a "rare bright light" for the economy.
Willetts said the space industry:
- Was worth £9.1bn in 2010/11
- Had grown by £1.6bn since 2009
- Grew 7.5% between 2010 and 2011
- Supported 29,000 skilled jobs
At the airshow he set out the UK Space Agency [UKSA] has set out its strategy to capture 10% of the world's space industry by 2030.
Presenting the 'Civil Space Strategy' for the next four years, Willetts said the government would continue to support the space sector.
The government will continue to invest in space, he said, and confirmed £10m had been by the Technology Strategy Board for space, although that had been announced previously.
He said: "The bigger picture, of course, is making sure that space continues to be a key enabler of economic growth – and that’s the central goal of the revised Civil space strategy that I am publishing."
"The document, covering the next four years, focuses on creating new opportunities for industry, bolstering the role of space in the UK’s infrastructure and furthering the National Space Technology Programme."
Willetts also said the Satellite Applications Catapult, one of seven new technology and innovation centres, will be based at Harwell Oxford.
Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board welcomed the news:
"The large amount of space related innovation at the Harwell science and innovation campus makes it the ideal location for the Satellite Applications Catapult. Building and supporting clusters of excellence is one of the key objectives of the Catapult programme and we are extremely pleased the Catapult delivery team has chosen it as its base."