Prestwick Spaceport – Michael O’Brien – 24 May 2022

Michael O’Brien is the project lead for space and digital matters in South Ayrshire. The Ayrshire Growth Deal is a partnership being driven by the Scottish Government, the UK Government and East, North and South Ayrshire Councils and is intended to transform the economic prospects of the area. The Deal forms the foundation of long-term plans to attract new businesses, support existing companies to expand, create more jobs and bring new opportunities to the whole of Ayrshire.

Michael is responsible for South Ayrshire Council’s involvement in two current projects: the Sub-Irish Sea Internet Cable and the Prestwick Spaceport. He came to the club this week to deliver an excellent talk on the latter and began by outlining some key points behind it.

The Prestwick Spaceport project is set to position Ayrshire as one of the UK’s leading centres of Aerospace and Space activity through an ambitious and transformational Aerospace and Space Programme. A total funding of £80M is shared among the UK Government, the Scottish Government, and South Ayrshire Council.  In September 2021, South Ayrshire Council and Glasgow Prestwick Airport signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Astraius, the leading UK-based, commercially operated horizontal ‘air launch’ company. Michael showed an interesting illustrative video demonstrating this unique technology, with first launches from conventional aircraft planned for the end of 2023.

The aim is to establish technically feasible and financially viable space-launch services from Glasgow Prestwick Airport (GPA). The investment is expected to be a catalyst to establishing GPA as the leading horizontal launch Spaceport in Europe, providing, by 2035, a range of services including micro-gravity flights, air launch of satellites up to a mass of 800kg, human space flight and hypersonic flights services.

This builds on Prestwick’s unique combination of attributes: latitude; over-sea take-off; metrological conditions; and the strong cluster of innovative aerospace companies located adjacent to GPA.

The investment will be in infrastructure to ensure that GPA is able to operate as a spaceport, including fuel storage, mixing areas, and blast protection. In addition, there will be investment to provide infrastructure for launch service providers (LSP) including a satellite integration facility, payload processing facility, mission control and range management systems.

These ambitious strategic projects will build on the area’s established business base. Michael said they are expected to transform the local economy through local, high-value job creation; utilise strong regional supply chains; tackle weak productivity; deliver skills required by the space and aerospace industries; and attract and retain talented people.

Harry Jackson thanked Michael for his excellent presentation which had prompted a lively question and answer session. He also noted that Prestwick was well positioned to benefit from the nearby presence of many notable educational establishments and remarked on the importance of STEM subjects at these to the success of projects such as this.