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READY FOR LIFT-OFF; SCOTS CLAIM TURBO BOOST IN RACE TO SPACE Prestwick We can launch in three years.

Byline: | Janice Burns

Prestwick airport bosses claim they could be joining the space race within the next three years after a controversial bidding system was scrapped.

They believe the UK government's move to replace an auction with a US-style licensing scheme has given them a boost.

The Ayrshire operation, Campbeltown in Argyll and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis were shortlisted under the old scheme and all three are still in the running despite the change of policy.

The UK government last week opted to set up a system which will see sites apply for a spaceport licence rather than choose just one site from the shortlist.

Mike Stewart, business development director at Prestwick airport, said: "This is great news.

"We are 100 per cent confident of having a spaceport ready for rocket launch within the next three years.

"We can make it happen because we have the best site in the UK.

"We are in a unique position in comparison to other bidders and that is really around the aerospace campus down here at Prestwick."

Over six months, Prestwick bosses had been lobbying government ministers to get rid of the bid system to allow the possibility of having more than one spaceport in the UK.

It means businesses will be able to apply for a licence for different specialities such as putting tourists into space or putting satellites into orbit.

Prestwick are focusing on satellite launches for industry and brought in a team of American experts to test the site against US licensing regulations.

Prestwick want to launch aircraft carrying satellites which will be fired into a polar orbit at high altitude.

Stewart added: "To get Prestwick operational as a spaceport would take relatively minimal private investment of between PS2million and PS3million in terms of handling rockets and fuels.

"We are only looking at horizontal launch and have a 3km runway here and another 1.8km support runway."

In 2014, the UK government started the bid process and laid down strict criteria for potential spaceport sites.

The length of a runway must be more than 3km long, ideal for oversea take-off and located away from densely populated areas. The UK Civil Aviation Authority also shortlisted Newquay in Cornwall and RAF Llanbedr in Wales.

Tom Millar, of Machrihanish Airbase Community Company in Campbeltown, said: "We are the only bidder to have a suitable runway. We've got the best launch direction, existing fuelling infrastructure, facilities including a sheltered deepwater harbour and 1000 acres of development opportunity.

"We have a very compelling case for community benefit, jobs growth, inward investment and education."

The Department for Transport say they are creating a regulatory environment through the Modern Transport Bill.

A spokesperson said: "Creating the UK's first spaceport will help propel Britain's economy into the modern age, create jobs and boost innovation. We are encouraging all potential sites to go out and attract business from this innovative and fast-paced market.

"This will mean all parts of the UK can take advantage of the opportunities that space offers."

Western Isles Council, backing the Stornoway bid, confirmed their spaceport plan was still going ahead.

A spokesman said: "The new licensing system changes the dynamics. It's a system that local partners in the Outer Hebrides can work with."

We are confident of having a spaceport ready because we have the best site in the UK

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high tech An artist's sketch of what Prestwick spaceport might look like
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 29, 2016
Words:572
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