Snowdonia space centre at Llanbedr given £500k funding
QinetiQ has been testing commercial drones which can monitor coastal erosion

Rocket launches in Snowdonia could be a step closer after the UK Space Agency announced £500,000 funding for a space centre.

The money will go towards a facility at Llanbedr in Gwynedd for space research and launching satellites and drones.

The Welsh Government is also giving £135,000 to a project to test unmanned and electric aircraft and space planes.

The announcements come at the opening of a space conference at Newport’s International Convention Centre Wales.

Around 1,800 delegates from across the world are taking part in the conference, the first international event to be held at the new centre.

Gwynedd council welcomed the funding, saying the project had the potential to create high-value jobs.

report for the council in 2017 estimated it would cost £25m to turn the airfield into an aerospace centre, including improvements to infrastructure, business units and facilities.

In 2018 Snowdonia Aerospace at Llanbedr lost out to Sutherland in Scotland in the race to become the UK’s first main spaceport, which will launch vertical rockets.

At the time the UK Space Agency, funded by the UK government, announced a £2m fund for other sites around the UK to launch rockets horizontally, subject to a successful bid.

Lee Paul, Snowdonia Aerospace’s chief executive, said the ambition was to have the first sub-orbital flights launched from the space centre by as early as 2022.

“We are delighted to have been awarded funding to support these aspirations from the UK Space Agency both in relation to the Horizontal Spaceport Development Fund and also the National Space Technology Programme,” said Mr Paul.

“We will embrace the UK Space Agency drive to achieve an early UK-based horizontal launch capability with the aim of delivering the first sub-orbital flights over Cardigan Bay in the 2022-2025 period.”

Mochras, known as Shell Island, near LlanbedrImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThere has been some concern about the potential impact of a space centre on the surrounding coast and countryside

Satellites and drones have many potential uses in areas such as defence, but also for monitoring climate change and improving communications.

Gareth Thomas, Gwynedd council’s cabinet member for economic development, said it had worked closely with partners to support the development of the space centre.

“With the support of EU funds, works are already underway to improve existing facilities to accommodate new tenants and create new jobs,” he said.

“This funding could build on that success in the longer term to create a truly world-class facility.”

But there has been some concern about the potential impact of the development of the former RAF airfield on the surrounding coast and countryside.

Claire Barcham, commercial space director at the UK Space Agency, denied the Llanbedr project progress had been slow.

“We’ve seen government and industry motivated to come together and we are on track to support the industry’s ambition to see launches from British soil from the early 2020s,” she said.

Ms Barcham added that it was an “exciting moment for space in Wales,” with the sector having grown by a third since 2015.

The conference
Image captionThe conference got under way at the new International Convention Centre Wales, Newport

In other funding announcements at the conference:

  • An additional £86,000 has been given by the UK Space Agency to Snowdonia Aerospace to test how satellite-enabled drones could be used to support healthcare in rural communities – this could potentially include delivering medicines to remote areas using the remote-controlled aircraft
  • Tactical Wireless, which is based in Shropshire, and the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service have been given £57,000 to develop satellite communications technology, which will provide a strong mobile internet connection for emergency healthcare staff in remote areas of Wales
  • B2Space has also been awarded £100,000 by the Welsh Government to set up in Newport and use Llanbedr to explore the possibility of using stratospheric balloons to launch “nano” satellites
Llanbedr airfieldImage copyrightGEOGRAPH/ROGER BROOKS
Image captionThe funding is to help Llanbedr airfield work towards launching satellites horizontally, rather than vertically

Wales in space

The space sector includes satellites and unmanned craft and in 2015, a target was set for Wales to make up 5% of the UK sector by 2030, worth £2bn a year.

From small beginnings, Wales is now home to 47 organisations employing 517 people.

When the UK leaves the EU, it will remain part of the European Space Agency but will not be able to take part in European Union-funded programmes.

From the BBC