Lift-Off For UK Spaceport Plan As Sites Revealed

Britain could be home to one of the first UK spaceports outside of America by 2018, with a shortlist of possible sites to be announced this week.

The base could act as a hub for commercial space flights, such as those planned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which will blast would-be astronauts into sub-orbit from the United States for $250,000 (£146,000).

The launch pad would rival the futuristic Spaceport America and would open up a route between Britain and space - even before completion of the London-Birmingham high speed rail link or expansion of Heathrow airport.

Of the eight possible locations to be revealed at the Farnborough Air Show on Tuesday, six are in Scotland.

Campbeltown, Kinloss, Leuchars, Lossiemouth, Prestwick and Stornoway are all on the list, confirmation of which will come just two months before Scotland votes in the independence referendum.

The remaining sites are in Newquay, Cornwall, and in Llanbedr, Gwynedd.

Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury and a prominent campaigner against independence, said: "Scotland has a proud association with space exploration.

"We celebrated Neil Armstrong's Scottish ancestry when he became the first man on the moon.

"The UK space industry is one of our great success stories and I'm sure there'll be a role for Scotland to play in the future."

This week's announcement comes after the UK Space Agency launched its first Cubesat mission, putting a shoebox-sized satellite into orbit earlier this month.

British scientists helped build the comet-catching Rosetta spacecraft and are also involved in making the European Mars rover, ExoMars, which is due to arrive on the red planet in 2019.

The British space industry is worth an estimated £9bn a year, employing more than 28,900 people who work for hundreds of companies.

The Government wants to capture a tenth of the world's space market by 2030, making the sector worth up to £40bn and providing as many as 100,000 jobs.