A rocket manufacturer is hoping to establish a launch site in Snowdonia that will put microsatellites into orbit.
The Vertical Small Satellite Launch Project, a collaboration between rocket company B2Space and the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre, is raising money to establish a low-cost launch site for satellites weighing under 150kg. The project is being supported by the Welsh Government.
Valentin Canales, co-founder and technical director of B2Space, said: “We want to be the first company to provide consistent and reliable low-cost access for small satellites.
“Many more companies could soon be able to afford to launch satellites into space at a much-reduced rate through our project… Providing low-cost space access could mean that we use space in a way that hasn’t been considered before.”
The project is currently bidding for grants worth £10m to develop the port. If successful B2Space estimate the launch site will generate £60m a year within UK supply chains and create around 93 direct jobs.
The company is developing a novel method of rocket launch, in which a balloon lifts the rocket into the stratosphere before the boosters fire to take it into low earth orbit.
The Welsh Government predicts up to 3,000 microsatellites – which can be used for everything from monitoring environments or coastlines to supporting communication systems – could be launched between 2017 and 2022. It estimates the market, worth $2.22bn last year, will grow to $5.31bn by 2021.
John Idris Jones, chair of Snowdonia Enterprise Zone, said the launch site could potentially attract global technology, research and investment into Wales. “The development means lots of opportunities for the north Wales supply chain and provides a real boost to the wider Wales space sector,” he said.
Launching satellites in the past cost $100m-$260m by some estimates, but low-cost rocket operators have slashed this price, making the prospect of owning and operating their own satellites a reality for more businesses.
SpaceX – the high-profile private rocket company run by Elon Musk – advertises a standard launch into low earth orbit for a price of $62m for a 22-tonne payload.
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