- Britain is leading the space race with world's first non-American spaceport
- New venture provokes interest of space tourism giants Virgin Galactic and XCOR
- Space travel looks to be an increasingly attainable dream for consumers as prices look to fall
Britain will launch the world's first spaceport outside the U.S., with first space tourists blasting off from the UK as early as 2018.
The details were revealed Tuesday at the Farnborough Air Show in Hampshire, England. The UK government outlined eight possible locations of the port -- one in Wales, one in England and six in Scotland, despite the independence referendum which Scotland holds in September.
"Space is big business for the UK. It already contributes $19 billion (£11.3 bn) to the economy each year, supporting nearly 35,000 jobs," UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said.
Until now, the UK had limited its involvements in space programs, launching rockets from Australia rather than constructing its own facility.
The UK government has expressed the ambitious target of capturing 10% of the global space sector, quadrupling the value of the nation's industry to $68 billion a year.
"We have worked out the regulatory regime we need to launch spaceships in Britain and assessed what kind of aviation checks will have to be imposed when we put craft into space," said the UK's science minister David Willetts.
"We have now created a shortlist of locations for the first British spaceport."
He added: "My benchmark is to ensure the UK space sector is growing faster than the Chinese economy".
The news is a reflection of growth and confidence in British space companies.
One such group, Reaction Engines, recently announced a revolutionary new design for a pilotless reusable spacecraft, and intends for this to take off and land like planes, offering an indication of the consumer experience as and when plans come to fruition.
Alan Bond, director of Reaction Engines and inventor of the new craft, told CNN that the spaceport marked the culmination of long term investment.
"If you look at total activity on space science, Britain could be world number one - even ahead of the Americans. Pro-rata, we have spent as much as anyone else on opening up space exploration, but the big bit missing was the enabling technology to conduct launches ourselves."
"Now we're seeing the government say 'we want to grow these areas'. We have well-funded programs up to 2017 and beyond, it's a significant long term commitment."
In addition, international leaders in space tourism Virgin Galactic and XCOR would also be expected to make use of the new base, with Richard Branson having expressed interest in a UK site.
The growing competition and infrastructure should see the price of a trip to space decline sharply from the current $204,000 quoted by Virgin Galactic, with flights to launch from New Mexico later this year.
Prices could fall by as much as 80% ahead of the 2018 launch of the UK spaceport, according to the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy board.
The UK's announcement could spark a competitive rush as rivals stake claims for a piece of the new sector. Consumers look set to be the winners as the one-time dream of space travel for all becomes an ever more accessible reality.