IT was an arena where the great powers once fought it out without coming to blows, a hot zone in a cold war where the rockets were instruments of peace and exploration instead of violence.

But this week a private company will boldly go back into space as the march to claim the skies from government agencies continues apace.

And while the days of buying a ticket on a rocket and blasting off are yet to appear on the horizon for the everyday person, experts believe a new dawn for space travel could one day bring millions of pounds to Scotland.

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Two locations – Machrihanish airbase near Campbletown and Prestwick airport in Ayrshire – are still very much in the running to be named as the site of the first UK spaceport, due to be named by Westminster later this year.

So interested eyes will focus on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Monday as SpaceX, brainchild of Paypal entrepreneur Elon Musk, prepares to launch its Falcon 9 rocket skyward, bearing a satellite payload for communications company Iridium into low earth orbit.

With the countdown delayed after an initial plan to launch today was pushed back, the return to space marks an important step in the quest to develop a reusable rocket by a private firm.

The last time a SpaceX rocket was launched it exploded within seconds, due to a failure inside the second-stage liquid oxygen tank, and a lot is riding on there being no mistakes this time.

“This is a very, very important launch,” Matthew Desch, chief executive officer of Virginia-based Iridium, said. “It starts the process of our replacement of our satellites.

"That will completely replace our network by the first half of 2018 and enable those exciting new services we’ve talked about in the past. It’s a historic launch as far as we are concerned.”

Dr Howie Firth, of the Scottish Spaceport Group, said that such scenes could one day be played out in Scotland, and that the country is poised to reap the benefits of a new age of space flight and exploration powered by the engine of commercial flights.

He said: "Scotland is ideally situated, both in terms of geography and in terms of industry, to be at the forefront of the commercial spaceflight revolution.

"The UK satellite industry is one of the country's success stories and Scots are heavily involved in that. But the drawback is that the UK does not have its own spaceport, and its a bit like having an excellent shipbuilding industry but not having access to a river or the sea."

He said that the time was now ripe for visionaries to take up the mantle of spaceflight pioneers. Firth, also director of the Orkney Science Festival, said: "The original idea was that space exploration would be done in small steps – first you would establish a space station and then a base on the moon, and then further out and so on until Mars.

"But in their race to get to into space and get to the moon NASA and the Russians basically adopted a ballistic missile approach – they are just shooting at the moon in a three-stage rocket.

"Now we are seeing the development of private space planes and the resumption of the dream of a re-useable spacecraft, such as the Falcon 9, which can leave and come back to a spaceport again and again."

Other examples of this type of technology include Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic aircraft, and the hypersonic Sabre engine being developed by the similarly UK-based Reaction Engines.

Virgin Galactic is developing a plane which will take tourists into the edge of space for a price of $250,000, and recently resumed trials of its vehicle after a fatal crash, blamed on pilot error, derailed progress in 2014.

Last month its new VSS Unity aircraft reached an altitude of 50,000ft and flew free for the first time. During its descent, it reached a speed of 735kph (456mph).

Reaction, which has been heavily backed by the UK Government, is developing a space plane which travels at more than five times the speed of sound and is capable of leaving the atmosphere.

The company's plane could theoretically cut the journey time between Britain and Australia to four and a half hours, and it would need a port to call its home.

Firth said: "One of the problems with spaceflight is that vehicles need to carry use oxygen to burn their rockets, and in space there is none so they have to carry it in liquid form. But the Reaction Engines space plane is able to take on oxygen in the atmosphere, cutting down the amount of fuel it needs to lift off with. It's like something out of science fiction.

"But it's not, and all these planes will need a port. This could be massive for Scotland's economy".