THE space industry is worth almost £14 billion to the UK economy and a draft bill unveiled yesterday aims to ensure the anticipated growth in the commercial space sector is properly regulated.

As it was launched at Westminster yesterday, a conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society heard that the first space launches from Britain could be made as early as 2020.

With Glasgow Prestwick a front-runner in the race for the country’s first spaceport, there is keen Scottish interest in the UK holding a bigger share of the commercial spaceflight market, estimated to be worth £25 billion over the next 20 years.

As part of this development, the regulatory infrastructure has to be in place to ensure licences, astronaut training and insurance and other obligations are all in place – hence the Draft Spaceflight Bill.

Katherine Courtney, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “With our partners across government we continue to create a supportive environment for commercial innovation and cutting-edge science.

“Together, we are working to embrace the emerging small satellite launch market to capture a share of the £25bn global opportunity. I’m confident that 2020 will see the first launches from British soil, and we’re working hard to make that a reality.”

The new powers unveiled by the government will allow satellite launches from British soil for the first time for scientific experiments. New laws paving the way for spaceports in the UK will allow ‎experiments to be conducted in zero gravity, which could help develop medicines.

Scientists will be able to travel into space to research and develop vaccines and antibiotics that grow differently without gravity. There could also be scope to carry out hundreds of vital scientific experiments on processes such as ageing.

Business and industry will now be encouraged to come forward with specific plans for space launches.

Richard Jenner, Spaceport director for Glasgow Prestwick Airport, welcomed the bill announcement.

He said: “We believe that dedicated legislation will help to move this forward at pace. Glasgow Prestwick Airport fulfils much of the essential criteria for a spaceport such as infrastructure, favourable weather conditions and relatively clear airspace.

“And, as such, we believe that our airport is able to move at pace with the legislative process, and we are equipped to become the UK and Europe’s first space launch site with minimal investment.

“We are confident we can help the government to meet its commitment to have space launch in the UK by 2020.”

Jenner added: “Glasgow Prestwick Airport has a long history of being in the forefront of aviation and aerospace and we’re really excited for this new opportunity to diversify and develop our business.”

Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad said: “We are boldly legislating where no British government has legislated before.

“It’s clear we are galvanised and ready to grasp this huge opportunity for our country. We want to move quickly but we also want to get it right too.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell added: “The ambitious proposals from each of the potential Scottish spaceports, combined with the expertise offered by our thriving hubs of scientific research, see us ideally placed to secure huge economic benefits for our local communities and skilled jobs for the future.”