Into the Blue Abyss – Proposed £120 million facility at RAF Henlow could train astronauts for commercial space flight

Plans for the Blue Abyss centre at the former RAF Henlow base

Plans for the Blue Abyss centre at the former RAF Henlow base - Credit: Archant

Ever fancied following in the footsteps of Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong and fulfilling your childhood dream of becoming an astronaut?

Plans for Blue Abyss as designed by Robin Partington

Plans for Blue Abyss as designed by Robin Partington - Credit: Archant

Well soon you might be able to do just that at an RAF base.

At RAF Henlow, which is set to close in 2020, the world’s first ever commercial space and deep-sea centre could be built.

The private company Blue Abyss has announced plans to open the centre which could help Central Bedfordshire Council to fulfil its vision of creating a science, innovation and technology park to regenerate the RAF base.

The scheme is just one of a set of alternate possibilities being mooted for the site, including housing developments and a heritage air centre with continued use of the site as an airfield.

Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, Blue Abyss non-executive director and ambassador to the R

Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, Blue Abyss non-executive director and ambassador to the Russian Space Agency. - Credit: Archant


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The Comet understands no firm decisions have yet been made by the MOD, which owns the site, or by Central Beds Council – which handles planning permissions for it.

If the space centre scheme is approved, its backers say it will bring new employment and world-leading research to the site.

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The £120 million facility, designed by the London Gherkin architect Robin Partington, could house the world’s biggest 50m-deep pool, a 120-bed hotel and an astronaut training centre – with parabolic flight capability, hypobaric and hyperbaric chambers, and a human performance centre to enable divers, astronauts and top athletes to perform at the peak of their potential.

The plan also includes a conference theatre and training rooms.

Blue Abyss says it will fulfil a crucial role in the growth of the UK’s space industry, highlighted by the government in the Queen’s Speech last week.

Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, who is a Blue Abyss non-executive director and ambassador to the Russian Space Agency, joined Blue Abyss chief executive John Vickers at the unveiling of the plans for the centre on Tuesday at Cranfield University, which is a partner of the project.

Speakers at the launch event included Central Bedfordshire Council leader Councillor James Jamieson, Vladimir Pletser – who is an expert in parabolic flight – and Kelvin Murray, a world-class professional diver, explorer, presenter and writer.

Mid Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries and representatives of the European Space Agency were also present.

Blue Abyss chief executive John Vickers said: “RAF Henlow provides the ideal site for Blue Abyss.

“The market is waiting for this facility – space tourism, the UK space programme and the demand for experiential packages.

“Being part of something bigger, working closely with a proactive council in its enabling and planning capacity and bringing jobs to the area, means we can make the incredibly exciting facilities for the industries we will serve a reality.”

Leader of Central Beds Council James Jamieson said the council is working with the MoD and its representatives to secure “sustainable redevelopment” of the Henlow RAF site.

He said the council welcomed Blue Abyss as a possible investor in the site.

“The proposal of a science, innovation and technology park at Henlow with Blue Abyss as a key investor will secure many high-tech jobs for the local area and beyond and ensure sustainable regeneration of this former RAF site,” he said.

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