UK rocket launches from Western Isles ahead of planned spaceport opening

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A commercial rocket has launched from the UK ahead of the planned opening of a spaceport.

Named ADA, the rocket blasted off from Benbecula Airport in the Western Isles on Thursday.

Spaceport 1 joined forces with East Anglian firm Gravitilab Aerospace Services to launch the flight test vehicle, named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician who is considered the world's first computer programmer.

Spaceport 1 is a consortium that plans to open a spaceport in the Western Isles at Scolpaig, North Uist in 2022, for commercial, sub-orbital space launches.

Mark Roberts, Spaceport 1 programme director, said: "This is a historic moment for Spaceport 1, the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and the UK."

Gravitilab aims to make space more accessible by providing reliable and affordable microgravity research and testing services.

ADA is the company's first rocket designed for this purpose.

Gravitilab Aerospace technical director, Rob Adlard, said: "Our work is offering microgravity as a research tool and testing service, which has not been offered commercially in the UK before.

"Everything from climate change science and driverless cars need assets in space.

"Our aim is to be part of this supply chain for small satellites that will transform the UK's position in the world in the space sector."

Last month, the Department of Transport (DfT) announced a framework of rules to regulate the space industry and said it has "a potential £4bn of market opportunities over the next decade".

The new regulations mean space flights and satellite launches can now take place in the UK, with the first expected next year.

Spaceport sites have been planned across the UK, including in Scotland and Cornwall, with the hope of cementing the country as Europe's most attractive destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

It is hoped the industry will launch satellites to improve satnav systems and boost the monitoring of weather patterns and climate change.

Spaceport 1's site at Scolpaig, North Uist is one of several proposed locations for licenced spaceports.

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