UK Spaceports: Eight Locations Named As UK Prepares To Host Rocket Launches

Eight potential locations for British space ports have been unveiled.

That's right -- we might still be struggling to work out what to do with Heathrow and Boris Island, but the government is already looking ahead. And above.

The list, published by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, places six of the eight potential sites in Scotland.

Under the plan the first spaceport in the UK could be open by 2018.

The main aim would be to enable satellite launches to take place in the UK, which would be a boost to the UK satellite-design industry but would also have military and defence implications.

The government is also keen to make it possible for space tourism companies, including Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, to one day launch paying customers to the edge of space from Britain. However that is currently still a dream for the future -- Virgin Galactic is yet to launch a tourist to space from its current home in the New Mexico desert.

The announcements came as Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new £1.1 billion package of investment in high-tech military equipment.

Alexander told the BBC:

"I am delighted that the government is pushing forward with its ambitious plans to open a spaceport in the UK by 2018. Spaceports will be key to us opening up the final frontier of commercial space travel."

The announcement was also widely seen to have a political element, with six of the locations being located within Scotland which is just weeks away from a critical vote on independence. In its comments to the BBC the government stressed the role of UK "cooperation" in maintaining momentum within the home-grown space industry.

Alexander said:

"Scotland has a proud association with space exploration. We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the Moon and only last week an amazing Scottish company was responsible for building the UK Space Agency's first satellite.

"The UK space industry is one of our great success stories and I am sure there will be a role for Scotland to play in the future."

Meanwhile the Scottish Nationalist Party said Scotland's space industry would be better served by independence.

As part of ambitious plans the government aims to capture 10% of the world's space market by 2030, citing figures that the UK sector has grown by just over 7% in the past two years, making it worth £11 billion and employing 34,000 people.