Branson wants to create a spaceport in Scotland

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The Independent Online

Sitting on the banks of the Moray Firth, the small Scottish town of Lossiemouth is synonymous with aeronautical endeavour. For the past 70 years, its airbase has been home to some of the RAF's most elite squadrons and boasts that it exists to "Provide Combat Capability for Expeditionary Operations Worldwide".

But now the base has been earmarked for expeditions that are out of this world. The site is one location being considered as a spaceport where Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic tourist flights to space would operate from. The proposal has been in the offing for three years and this week it received the support of the MP and MSP for the area. Angus Robertson and Richard Lochhead held talks in Edinburgh yesterday in an effort to secure the use of RAF Lossiemouth for the ambitious project.

Virgin is interested in using the Moray airbase for commercial space flights. The first commercial flights are expected to take off from a base in New Mexico in the United States as early as 2011.

Virgin plans to launch spaceships from carrier planes, taking two pilots and six passengers on a brief sub-orbital journey 87 miles above the earth. Customers paying £110,000 will get to experience five minutes of weightlessness during their flight. Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin chairman, wants to build three spaceports in the US, the Middle East and Asia or Australia.

On Thursday the two politicians stressed the potential economic benefits when they met John Swinney, Scotland's Finance Secretary. Mr Robertson said: "With test flights already under way the likelihood is these flights could be available in the next few years, so the chance to discuss the role the Scottish Government could potentially play in realising this goal was welcome.

"I have already spoken with the UK Science Minister Lord Drayson and Dr Ian Gibson of the British National Space Centre, who are positive about the future of space flight from Moray. Mr Swinney was equally as enthusiastic about the plans and receptive to exploring the possibilities in Moray."

Mr Lochhead added it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential of the Virgin flights to also launch satellites. "I am delighted myself and Angus Robertson were able to represent Moray's interest in making sure the full potential of these flights is explored," he said. "I look forward to working with interested parties, including Virgin Galactic, to move this forward in the interests of our constituents in Moray, with potential benefits for the whole of Scotland."