News Column

Final frontier Could Filton be the gateway to the universe?

July 14, 2014

Gavin Thompson; Gavin Thompson Assistant Editor (Business) gavin.thompson@b- nm.co.uk

BRISTOL may not have direct flights to the US but it could become a launch pad for trips into space. Britain wants to build a commercial spaceport from which to launch commercial satellites and tourist flights.

The Government will unveil a shortlist of eight possible locations tomorrow at Farnbrough Airshow and some experts are speculating Bristol could be on it.

The city's rich aerospace heritage would be a plus, having been the first take-off point for all the British-made Concordes and the birthplace of historic flying machines from the Bristol Blenheim to the Boxkite.

Big players in the aerospace sector including Airbus, Rolls- Royce and BAE Systems all have homes here. We even have Bristol Spaceplanes, a small firm which has been crowd-funding to raise money to develop its own ideas for affordable space tourism.

But the main reason Bristol is being talked about is the long runway at Filton Airfield.

A UK spaceport would probably be used by Virgin Galactic and the US company XCOR to launch space tourist flights. Both companies are building spacecraft that will take off like an aeroplane rather than launch like a rocket. Nick Spall, of the British Interplanetary Society, told the Observer that could make Filton "very attractive". The rather large spanner in the works, however, is that Filton Airfield is closed and the land has been sold by its former owner BAE Systems to London-based developer Bridgehouse Capital. There are plans to build thousands of homes on and the around the site. Diggers have already been at work on the runway. So it might be a touch bumpy during take off for Richard Branson and his paying guests.

Certainly, if anyone wants to use it launch spacecraft, they'll have to move quickly as building work on the development - to be called Concorde Park - is due to start in earnest next year.

Wherever the spaceport ends up - and a number of sites including former RAF bases in Scotland have also been touted - the aim is to open it by 2018.

Science minister David WIlletts said: "We have worked out the regulatory regime we need to launch spaceships in Britain and assessed what kind of aviation checks will have to be imposed.

"We have now created a shortlist of locations for the first British spaceport."

GALACTIC ? Virgin Galactic's first flights are set to take off from a purpose-built spaceport in New Mexico at the end of the year.

Passengers will pay around Pounds 120,000 for a 150-minute flight in a tiny space-plane that will take them to a height of around 100km (62 miles) and will allow them to experience six minutes of zero gravity.

Virgin has already had talks about opening another spaceport at Lossiemouth on the Moray coast of Scotland.

WHY NASA SAYS UK'S QUIETEST PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF BRISTOL...? STANDING on a hill above Bristol city centre, it might not seem an obvious candidate for the title of the UK's quietest place.

But once the outside world has been shut out, Bristol University's Ultra-Low Noise Lab is so quiet that it has been chosen as the best place to test ultra-sensitive equipment which is due to be sent on a mission to Mars.

Scientists from NASA's InSight mission needed a low vibration site to calibrate the seismometer which will be travelling to the Red Planet in 2016.

Recent tests carried out in the lab, part of the university's Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information, found it to be the quietest location in the UK in the critical seismic frequency range scientists expect to encounter on Mars.

The mission aims to find out about the processes which shaped all of the inner solar system's rocky planets.

Dr Nick Teanby, Dr James Wookey, Jenny Taylor and Dr Anna Horleston from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences have been working with the NSQI's Dr Pete Dunton to help calibrate and test the device.


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Source: Bristol Evening Post (England)


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