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Airport design engineers urged to factor in space missions

Uk spaceport 3to2

Engineers designing airports today should be factoring in space flights, a leading aerospace expert has said.

Aecom Aerospace Enterprise Services vice president Doug Johnson told New Civil Engineer that rather than retrofitting airports with complex technology, engineers should be laying the foundations for space flights by designing longer runways and sound barriers exceeding current design guidance.

It comes after the UK government granted £23.5M to US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin to establish vertical launch operations at Sutherland, Scotland by 2020. The government has also established a £2M development fund for horizontal spaceports such as those planned in Cornwall, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia.

Aecom has thrown its hat in the ring for work on the Sutherland spaceport and now Johnson, who is leading Aecom’s bid, wants to see spaceports factored into airport designs to provide a “multi-modal transportation system”.

“Some of the challenges we’re facing now to try to retrofit an airfield…if you design it in on the front end then you don’t have that issue,” he said.

“I think that the engineering disciplines would need to take into account those requirements that would make a viable spaceport out of any facility that you design from the ground up. I would say that should be a part of the curriculum.”

Johnson explained sound barriers need to be designed to a much higher specification than current guidance expects due to greater noise pollution from space flights, while remote locations would be ideal.

Fuel storage must also be taken into account when new airports are built as spaceports could require cryogenic fuels such as liquid oxygen and hydrogen. Longer runways than currently designed must also be included to allow space flights to take off.

“Rocketry and high speed transportation requires longer runways, it requires more rigid systems to support that,” said Johnson. “The design has to take all that into consideration.”

Although noise reduction technology is improving, Johnson does not believe it is plausible for the expansion team at Heathrow to factor in space travel as it is too close to the capital.

“That [better noise cancelling technology] will enable more use closer to higher populations, but I think the aircraft technology, engine technology, noise technology has to catch up with the acceptance of the population before you could consider doing that at Heathrow for example.”

The government said that the Sutherland spaceport marks the first step towards a potential Space Sector Deal, as well as the development of a national space programme. 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • While we're at it, why don't we start preparing for other unproven technologies like the Hyperloop and start on demolishing existing infrastructure and countryside? That would turn out real well.

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  • Philip Alexander

    Is it April 1st already? Which planet is Mr Johnson on?

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  • Is Doug related to Boris?

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