New UK-US agreement allows US companies to launch from UK spaceports

In a new move designed to encourage more economic and scientific collaboration between spacefaring nations, the U.K. and U.S. governments have signed a new agreement that would make it possible for U.S. companies to take part in space launches from the U.K., including its many in-development spaceports.

The deal sounds one-way — but the nature of the agreement is designed to bolster the supply, development and customer pipeline for the U.K.’s bourgeoning spaceport industry. The agreement now in place not only allows U.S. companies to launch from U.K. spaceports, but also means that U.S. tech companies active in any portion of the launch industry supply chain will be able to contribute to U.K.-based launch site setup and operation.

The goal for the U.K. space industry is to start active launches sometime this year, and U.K. regulators and government funding sources have come together to achieve this goal. The country is working on a number of spaceports, including both horizontal launch sites for launch vehicles like those operated by Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic, as well as vertical spaceports for more traditional rockets.

Commercial space is an increasingly lucrative market in terms of launch contracts and payload development and integration. U.K. companies already participate actively in the U.S.-based private launch industry, which is already up and running thanks to private launch companies including SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as active spaceports in the U.S. including the Mojave Air and Spaceport from which Virgin Orbit operates.

Spaceport Cornwall is one of the sites currently in development, and launch startup Skyrora has also been launching from a site in Scotland as it continues its own rocket testing and certification program.

U.K.-based space industry organization Access Space co-founder and director Tony Azzarelli provided the following statement to TechCrunch regarding this development:

We are thrilled that the U.K. has signed such [an] agreement as it would boost the space sector in the U.K., both from lending a hand to U.S. launchers, as well as increasing the importance of the U.K. as a launching state and thus investment from government to promote its own launch industry sector, e.g., Skyrora, Orbex, Reaction Engines, Rocket Plane, Spaceport Cornwall, Astroscale, etc.