The government will convert an existing airfield to handle space travel within the next four years
The UK will build a spaceport by 2018, with eight locations under consideration - many of which are in Scotland.
That's right: a spaceport. Like an airport, but destination space.
The Department of Transport is evaluating existing airfields for their suitability to become a spaceport, examining factors such as the weather - strong winds are a problem - and how it will affect the local environment and economy.
In more practical considerations, the spaceport will require a runway that's 3,000m long, the ability to segregate airspace so there's a dedicated area for space vehicles, and it will have to be away from densely populated areas "to minimise impact on the uninvolved general public".
In its report, the government noted that commercial sub-orbital spaceflights for paying passengers will kick off in the US by the end of this year via Virgin Galactic. It wants the UK to get in on the space-tourist action by becoming the centre for such activity in Europe.
Aside from the sheer joy that having a spaceport would bring, it would also result in boosting scientific research by attracting space firms, and spur the economy by creating jobs.
Since spaceplanes - spaceplanes! - are more dangerous than existing aircraft, they don't meet current regulatory requirements to carry paying passengers. The government is therefore considering changing laws to allow such "experimental" aircraft to take tourists.
"In the longer term, it is possible that spaceplanes will enable intercontinental travel at very high speeds," the report added. "There have been suggestions that by travelling on a sub-orbital trajectory, journey times from the UK to Australia could be cut from the current duration of around 20 hours to as little as two hours."
Aside from space tourism and weekend getaways to Brisbane, the spaceport will also allow satellite launches as well as delivery of cargo and scientific payloads into orbit. If all goes well, the government predicted the first sub-orbital flights will take place by 2018, followed by satellite launches in 2020, and orbital flights by 2030.
Here's a selection of the firms working on spaceplanes and how they work.
Airbus Defence and Space
This firm is working on a spaceplane the size of a business jet for tourism. It takes off in the same way as a standard plane using jet engines, and has a rocket engine to get into the sub-orbital trajectory. The flights will last an hour – but don't expect any gin and tonics: there's no in-flight service. Flights are hoped to start by the beginning of next decade.
This UK firm was founded in 1991. It's working on a plane called Spacecab, which hopes to be the first orbital spaceplane. Until then, it's working on a sub-orbital plane called the Ascender, which would carry one paid tourist and a crew member.
"It would take off from an ordinary airfield and climb to 8km at subsonic speed, before starting the rocket engine," the report noted. "It would then accelerate to a speed of around Mach 3 on a near-vertical climb and then follow an unpowered trajectory to reach a height of 100km."
This UK firm's SKYLON is an unmanned spaceplane, designed to carry satellites and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). However, it could be used to carry space tourists or astronauts to the ISS too. Testing will begin in 2020 and, if all goes well, it will be operational by 2022.
It uses a specialised engine that hits Mach 5 before accelerating to Mach 25 "for orbital insertion".
More details: http://www.space.com/26749-uk-spaceport-commercial-space-plane.html