Houston, we have lift off! Prestwick Spaceport sets sights on stars as it welcomes US director
It’s famed for its role in providing a lifeline to the imperilled astronauts on board the aborted Apollo 13 moon landing.
But now the lunar expertise from Houston mission control looks set to guide the fortunes for Scotland’s own space ambitions.
Professor David Alexander, from the board of directors at Houston Spaceport, has docked at Prestwick Spaceport in Ayrshire to discuss plans for the future and strengthen ties between the two facilities.
He was welcomed by Dr Philippa Whitford, Central Ayrshire MP, and the pair were later joined by Theo Leijser, the service lead for economy and regeneration at South Ayrshire Council.
Prestwick and Houston Spaceport signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 2016, to allow both organisations to share relevant policies, processes, and other information related to commercial spaceport licensing and operations.
The discussions between Dr Whitford and Prof Alexander come after Prestwick Spaceport formed a partnership with Astraius, the leading UK based, commercially operated horizontal ‘air launch’ company. The deal is set to boost momentum for the Scottish and UK space industries.
It also follows a recent initiative organised by Prof Alexander, who is director of the Space Institute at Rice University in Texas, which connected schools from Scotland, Ecuador and Texas in the US, with the International Space Station (ISS), where they were able to ask questions directly to astronauts in space.
Dr Whitford supported the educational outreach programme aimed at inspiring young people, having arranged the participation of Prestwick Academy.
Dr Whitford MP said: “After an exciting week for Prestwick Spaceport, it was great to welcome David Alexander back to Ayrshire to discuss the relationship between Prestwick and Houston Spaceports. As a global Scot from Glasgow, he has always been keen to strengthen the ties between Ayrshire and Houston, in both the space industry and promotion of STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] education and I was delighted to be able to facilitate the involvement of Prestwick Academy in his recent educational session with the International Space Station.”
Prestwick Spaceport, which is represented by Glasgow Prestwick Airport and South Ayrshire Council, is working towards creating a wealth of career opportunities and bolstering the “long-established” aerospace cluster in the region.
The spaceport’s long runway, ideal climate for take off and “exceptional” connectivity via air, rail, sea and road, make it an ideal location to host Europe’s most exciting, emerging space hub.
Theo Leijser said: “Prestwick Aerospace, Scotland’s largest aerospace hub, secured £80 million of investment from the wider £250 million Ayrshire Growth Deal funding.
“In addition to infrastructure for the spaceport and commercial build, part of this investment will be used to establish an Aerospace and Space Technology Application Centre to nurture and develop the STEM skills needed to keep the UK at the forefront of what is a globally growing industry for years to come. It was great to have the opportunity to meet with David Alexander, share our plans and strengthen our collaboration.”
According to Prestwick Spaceport, Scotland’s space sector is already developing at a rapid pace, and its recent partnership with Astraius, in combination with the recent talks with Houston Spaceport, is set to further fuel the ambitions of the industry.
In recent days, Glasgow was host to an event organised by the international society for optics and photonics, SPIE, on space, satellites and sustainability.
This brought together academia and companies from across the sector to explore opportunities for collaboration on the use of downstream space data for environmental purposes.
Professor Alexander was a co-author on a paper that was presented at the conference.
On his visit, he said: “The ongoing developments at the Houston Spaceport and the exciting activities at Prestwick make for a natural partnership. We are excited by the growing space connections between Houston and Scotland.”
One week ago the UK government published its first ‘national space strategy’, which sets out the UK’s long-term plans to strengthen its status as a world-class space nation.
Kevin Seymour, chief executive of Astraius, welcomed the new plan. He said: “We are immensely proud of our part in the landmark deal for the development of Prestwick Spaceport, between South Ayrshire Council, Glasgow Prestwick Airport and our UK launch company Astraius. Our joint plans fit exactly into the very first part of the government’s ten point plan, ‘to capture the European market in commercial small satellite launch with the aim of becoming the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030.’”