The government is looking to push forward commercial spaceflight activity in the UK with a series of grants totalling £10m.
The money is aimed at consortia that want to start launching satellites – and even people – from British soil.
Previous feasibility work has already identified a number of aerodromes that might make suitable spaceports – from Cornwall to Scotland.
Ministers also intend to introduce supporting legislation.
As the law stands, the rocket planes and other launch systems currently in development around the world would not be able to operate out of the UK.
The legislation would put in place the necessary regulatory and licensing framework.
A Spaceflight Bill is likely to be tabled towards the end of the month.
To win grants, consortia will have to show how they will “develop spaceflight capabilities, such as building spaceport infrastructure or adapting launch vehicle technology for use in the UK”.
Ministers have identified space as a key sector that can help rebalance the services-dominated British economy.
They regard satellites as one of the “eight great technologies” that will lead to significant growth opportunities.
And in recent years, the UK has made heavy investments into industry through the European Space Agency to support this strategy.
But satellites have to get into space to be useful and the business of launching them also has the potential to bring significant earnings – particularly now that low-cost launch systems are becoming available.
Announcing the new grants, Science Minister Jo Johnson said the commercial spaceflight market could be worth an estimated £25bn over the next 20 years.
“Spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation,” he said.
“It provides opportunities to expand into new markets, creating highly-skilled jobs and boosting local economies across the country. That is why it is one of the key pillars of our Industrial Strategy.
“We want to see the UK space sector flourish, that is why we are laying the groundwork needed for business to be able to access this lucrative global market.”
A number of consortia are already pushing to use horizontal launch systems.
These would see rockets carried by planes to an altitude where they would then be released to make their way into orbit to deliver a satellite.
For safety reasons, this activity would be done somewhere over the ocean, but ministers have not ruled out the possibility that conventional vertical lift-off rockets could also be launched from the UK.
And although satellites are the focus of business leaders, it is conceivable that “tourist” flights on sub-orbital rocket planes could become part of the services being offered as well.