Sutherland site is United Kingdom spaceport frontrunner

Virgin Orbit's aircraft 'Cosmic girl'

Virgin Orbit's aircraft 'Cosmic girl'

Vertical rocket and satellite launches are planned from the A'Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland which the UK Space Agency said would pave the way for spaceflights. Three other sites will receive boosts for horizontal air-launch operations.

Cosmic Girl will carry a LauncherOne rocket under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release the rocket at around 35,000 feet for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth orbit.

As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy.

British officials estimate that the commercial space sector will be worth a potential $5 billion to the country's economy over the next decade.

A peninsula on Scotland's north coast has been identified as the frontrunner in the race to become the site of the UK's first spaceport.

Greg Clark, the business secretary, said: "The UK's thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading..." "The worldwide space sector is growing and we want to ensure the region is ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated from this fantastic opportunity". His company builds its constellation of cubesats that provide weather and tracking services in Glasgow. Only more recently has there been open consideration of new vertical launch sites, such as Sutherland as well as in the Shetland Islands.

The Newquay site, known as Spaceport Cornwall, has already recruited a satellite launch provider: Virgin Orbit, a California-based company that's part of British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

This major partnership between the Cornwall spaceport and Virgin Orbit - announced at 10.30pm tonight - will see the first launch take place by 2021.

The government also announced a new £2million development fund for "horizontal launch" spaceports across the United Kingdom at sites such as Prestwick in Ayrshire, Cornwall's Newquay, Campbeltown in Argyll and Bute and Llanbedr, Gwynedd, Wales, subject to a successful business case.

"The Cornwall partnership allows us to grasp important market share, gain instant global launch market credibility and, with the technology already being tested in the USA, further lower our risk", said Patrick McCall, chairman of the board of Virgin Orbit, said in the Cornwall statement.

UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah added: "The announcement of a strategic partnership between Virgin Orbit and Cornwall Spaceport is great news for the region and the UK's ambitions for regular, reliable and responsible access to space".