Rocket at Spaceport CornwallImage source, Spaceport Cornwall
Image caption, This rocket will deliver satellites into orbit - the first time this has happened from British soil

The UK's race to space is set to begin on Monday with the launch of the first ever British rocket.

The country wants to become a global player in space, from manufacturing satellites to building rockets. Can the UK make a name for itself in a crowded market?

"We are the small animals that live in the wild."

It is the first time any of us have done this.

Media caption,

The BBC got an exclusive look at the rocket launch.

Spaceport Cornwall is about to become the first spaceport in the world.

They have a base at the airport.

The hubbub of activity is when passengers arrive, suitcases are loaded, and planes are being fueled.

There is a 21m long rocket on the tarmac.

The first ever launch from UK soil is being prepared by a team of people.

Image source, Kevin Church/BBC
Image caption, The Cornwall rocket launch will begin its journey to space on this modified jumbo jet

This is a big deal.

There will not be a launch from the ground. The rocket is under the wing of the jumbo jet. The rocket will be released once the plane is in the air.

Setting up the UK's first spaceport has taken a long time and a lot of hard work.

It is hoped that it will bring in new companies and create new jobs in the area, which is one of the most deprived in the UK.

"I think it's the beginning of a new chapter for Cornwall," she said.

We were at the center of the industrial revolution. We have been using innovative technologies for a long time.

There is a bigger ambition as well. The UK should be seen as a leader in space if this succeeds.

Image caption, The "lipstick" rocket should have marked the start of the British launch industry

This isn't the first time that a British launch industry has been attempted.

The rocket was supposed to be the start of something big for the UK.

The satellite was sent into space.

Black Arrow was the first British-built rocket to deliver a British-built satellite into the sky.

The first launch was the last one because the costs were too high.

Satellite building took off in Britain after the UK's launch industry paused.

According to a recent government report, the space sector is worth $16.5 billion a year to the UK's economy and employs 50,000 people.

Image source, Kevin Church/BBC
Image caption, Nine small satellites will be sent into space from Cornwall

"We knock it out of the park when it comes to small satellite manufacture," says Dr Alice Bunn, CEO of UK Space.

Satellites built in the UK have had to be sent abroad to get into space, but this first launch will change that.

Alice says that most people don't know how dependent we are on satellites.

Satellite navigation systems, environmental monitoring, emergency response, and all the telecommunications capability can be provided from space. She says that it's a running thread through her life.

Some companies plan on using this technology.

Image source, Kevin Church/BBC
Image caption, Welsh company Space Forge want to use satellites to make materials

A lot of new materials can be made in space.

A small satellite is being prepared in a room. Nine people are going into space by the Cornwall launch.

Space forge describes their satellites as mini factories.

The absence of gravity makes it possible to mix different materials.

Billions of new alloys can be made if you put the entire periodic table together.

He explains that the new materials could be used in a variety of ways.

He thinks that it's a good idea to launch these satellites close to their base in Wales.

The fact that we can just drive down the road for a couple hours to get to our spaceport is a huge impact.

Image source, Paul Riddell
Image caption, The Saxavord Spaceport is located on the northernmost tip of Unst, one of the Shetland Islands

It is not the only race to space.

There is a hive of activity as diggers and dumper trucks come and go.

An important milestone has been achieved and the team is celebrating. One of the three planned launch pads is being set on the ground.

At the northernmost tip of the UK, the SaxaVord Spaceport is being built.

Image source, Paul Riddell
Image caption, The SaxaVord team is building a new launch pad at the site

SaxaVord's chief operating officer says that the first response from the locals was that it might have been an April fool.

There's been a lot of excitement about what we've been doing.

There's a good reason why they chose such a remote place.

It is the safety element for us.

When the rocket leaves, there's no real danger to people nearby.

Image source, Kevin Church/BBC
Image caption, The remote site is located far from densely populated areas

Once it's up and running, SaxaVord is aiming for the UK's first vertical rocket launch to take satellites into space, with up to 30 launches a year.

There are other spaceports in Scotland. In the Outer Hebrides and the Highlands, there will be others.

In Unst, the hope is that these will boost the local economy.

The deputy CEO of SaxaVord says that the island has suffered a lot from depopulation.

The airfield used to be the 3rd busiest in the UK. They had an air force station here as well.

The population of the island was halved when that happened.

He wants the spaceport to help the island.

Liquid oxygen will be put into the rockets, for example, during the fueling of the rockets. Highly skilled jobs will be available.

Image source, Kevin Church/BBC
Image caption, Aerospace graduate Ahsan Zaman says the UK's space industry is creating new opportunities

SaxaVord is working with several companies that want to use Unst to blast off rockets.

Skyrora is located just outside of Glasgow.

The team is working on a variety of rocket parts, from nose cones to engines and containers.

Skyrora is a larger rocket that the company plans to launch from the Shetland Islands.

Image caption, Skyrora is working on a prototype rocket before it builds a larger model

You do a full design on paper, and then you build it. "You build prototypes, you do tests, you go back to the drawing board and see what needs to be changed."

The new push for space in the UK is opening up opportunities for science and engineering graduates according to him. He is happy to be working on the project.

We will be known as the first people to do it in the UK if we succeed. It's an honor and exciting.

In other parts of the world, the launch industry is much more established than it is in the United Kingdom.

The price of sending satellites into space has been slashed.

Image source, NASA/Joel Kowsky
Image caption, SpaceX rockets have been dominating the launch industry

Can the companies compete?

Skyrora's CEO wants his rockets to offer a more tailored service.

He wants to be a satellite taxi service.

To launch whenever the customer wants us to launch and deliver them to their desired location.

The market to launch small satellites will grow, but not all companies will make it.

He admits that some of us will fail.

There are some who believe in this market. We decided to invest earlier to be ready when the market starts to boom.

The space sector is being pushed by the UK government.

Image source, Kevin Church/BBC News
Image caption, The new launch industry will need help longer-term help from the government

The support needs to be for a long period of time.

You won't become a global space player by yourself. The government needs to be committed to ongoing operational capability.

She thinks this could mean the government signing up as a customer for a launch.

The industry and government need to work together to get us off the ground.

The first UK launch is due to take place in Cornwall.

There will be many challenges in the future for this new industry.

Everyone in this sector knows that space is hard.

With this high risk comes the possibility of sky-high rewards.

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Alison Francis is a journalist.

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  • British space programme
  • Shetland
  • Aerospace
  • Space exploration