Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland among 'possible UK spaceport locations'

Atlantis shuttle's final landing
Image caption The report says the spaceport requires an "isolated, low-population density location"

Northern Ireland could be considered among possible locations for the UK's first spaceport, according to a new report into the UK space industry.

The report, from the Institute of Directors (IoD), examined the growth and potential of the £8b space sector which supports 85,000 jobs in the UK.

It suggested that a RAF base in Scotland could meet many of the requirements to construct a spaceport.

However it said sites in NI or south west England could also be considered.

'Air corridor'

The report, Space: Britain's New Infrastructure Frontier , was written by Dan Lewis, the chief executive of the Economic Policy Centre.

He said that the UK space industry was "a real success story" which had created a "large number of highly skilled jobs".

Mr Lewis said the construction of a spaceport was "the logical next step" to grow the sector even further.

He said it would be a key piece of infrastructure, providing a hub for space tourism, research and development.

His report concluded that the spaceport would ideally be situated in an "isolated, low-population density location where the noise would not impact urban populations".

It also said it would require a very long runway and "its own undisturbed high altitude air corridor" which narrowed down the options.

"Lengthening the runway of an RAF base in Scotland or Northern Ireland would be a possibility, while the south west of England could represent an alternative location," his report found.

It added that RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland stood out as a suitable candidate but added that other Scottish RAF bases "with runways of around 9,000 feet" were also possible.

So what are the chances that Northern Ireland could boldly go where no UK region has gone before?

The former RAF Aldergrove in County Antrim was the last remaining military base with a runway in Northern Ireland.

In 2009, command of the Aldergrove station passed to the Joint Helicopter Force, ending the RAF's 91-year history of flying from Northern Ireland.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in Northern Ireland said they were not aware of the IoD report when contacted by the BBC.

However, he advised that any decision about the construction a spacesport would have to be taken a national government level.

'Space taxis'

The IoD report also said the private sector could help fund the costs of a spaceport, and pointed out that space tourists were "willing to pay $200,000 for a mere three hours in space".

It found that the UK space industry has "more than doubled in size over the last decade".

It currently employs around 25,000 people, and supports a further 60,000 jobs indirectly.

However, Mr Lewis claimed that if job growth continues at the 15% rate of the last few years, employment in the sector would reach 100,000 by 2020.

He said the closing of NASA's space shuttle programme was leading to a "space revolution" in the private sector, where companies were competing to provide "space taxi services".

The United States' 30-year shuttle programme ended in July 2011.

At the time the US space agency said it intended to invite the private sector to provide it with space transport services.

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