A MISSION to launch spacecraft in the UK could see a surge in business at an Oxfordshire science centre, the Government has said.

The UK Space Agency spoke to scientists at the Harwell Campus about pioneering plans to build a 'spaceport' in the country - a base from which rockets and satellites are propelled into space.

Experts from the Government agency hailed Harwell as 'the gateway' to the country's space industry, during a visit to the South Oxfordshire research hub on Friday.

Claire Barcham, satellite launch programme director at the UK Space Agency, said: "It's really exciting. There aren't any spaceports in mainland Europe.

"We [in the UK] are really great at the moment at building small satellites, but there is no ability to put them into orbit here. Around the world it tends to be expensive and difficult to do that."

Currently companies wanting to launch spacecraft must travel to spaceports in other countries, such as the United States.

The Government wants to entice more businesses by building at least one spaceport in the UK.

Though there is no suggestion Oxfordshire would be a suitable location, as coastal areas are favoured, Ms Barcham said more companies could be attracted to set up at Harwell if the country had one.

She stressed the centre was home to 'world-leading' research, adding: "Harwell is very important to the UK space sector. It's the gateway for companies to get involved.

"A spaceport would really boost the whole space economy and a crucial hub of that is here in Harwell. It would have benefits not just to companies building the spaceport or rockets, but the wider services providing support along the way."

The Government wants to boost the UK's share of the global space market, from the current six per cent to 10 per cent by 2030.

Ms Barcham, who spoke after visiting Harwell technology company Satellite Applications Catapult, said: "It's a hugely ambitious target but it will have enormous benefits. The space sector is important to our economy - it's a vital piece of the picture and we would really like to grow that.

"There is a huge rise in demand from companies wanting low-cost, flexible and reliable launches. We want to make sure the UK is one of the leading sites for spaceports to really attract those companies."

Science minister Jo Johnson visited Harwell Campus in July, to unveil plans for a £99m space research hub.

He has since described the spaceport plans as 'one of the most exciting industrial opportunities the country has'.

The Space Industry Bill is currently passing through Parliament, setting out new legislation including powers to license spaceports.