Hooray for George Osborne! I never imagined I’d ever write those words, but George has done his country a great service. He’s put £60 million behind one of the most inspiring British inventions of our age: Skylon, a space plane with a revolutionary new engine.
When Skylon’s up and running, it’ll be able to transport satellites – well, anything — into orbit for a 20th of the current price, and go at a scorching 3,500 mph. It’ll be the envy of the world – which sounds like hyperbole, but isn’t.
The Spectator championed Skylon four years ago, pointing out that the world is on the brink of a new space race, and that the UK could lead the way, if only our government only had the balls to back British invention. We wrote:
‘China knows we’re on the verge of a new space age: it plans to launch a manned space laboratory late next year and has been making a fleet of Shenzhou taxi spacecraft. Russia knows it: Roscosmos, the Russian space agency has announced plans for a next-generation manned spacecraft. Darpa, the Pentagon agency that created the internet and stealth technology, is hard at work developing its own space planes…But we have perhaps the most exciting space plane idea in the world, a British design, Skylon, conceived in the 1980s by the MoD, cancelled by Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine… .Beneath the surface frost, the old spirit of British innovation, the spirit of Barnes Wallis, is waiting in the wings.’
I admit, back in 2009, I didn’t think Government would care enough to give Skylon a vital leg up. I assumed we’d dither — worried that the European Space Agency might feel left out. After all, Heseltine and Clark had already put the kibosh on Skylon, thinking it not sufficiently ‘European’. I thought it would end up being developed by America or the Chinese.
Others had doubts too. Beneath the article, back in 2009, a chap called Kevin Dunn wrote: ‘You really expect a great daring enterprise like this from the decadent, worthless, broken society that Britain has become? The best of British luck to you!’ Kevin, I thought, had a point.
But we were wrong Kevin, and thank God for that. So let’s raise a glass, just for once, to George Osborne and his terrific team of advisers.