A FORMER RAF base in Moray could become the country's first spaceport within five years, a UK minister has predicted.

David Willetts, the ­Universities and Science Minister, said the UK Government was keen to aid that ambition.

Ministers want to ensure the UK claims its share of what could be a £400 billion space industry,

Industry insiders also believe that establishing a spaceport in the UK would cut the cost of launching satellites and also help to bring broadband to the most remote parts of the country.

But Mr Willetts also signalled his belief in the potential for the UK to benefit from space tourism.

He hopes to attract Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which plans to run commercial space flights, to the UK.

Trade body UK Space has recommended the UK build its own spaceport by 2018.

Mr Willetts said: "I like the ambition for a UK spaceport by 2018. We are absolutely up for supporting that ­development. He added: "You could imagine a ­location in Scotland where RAF bases that they are moving away from ... where you could launch vehicles across the North Sea."

It is understood that Mr Willetts's comments refer to the former RAF Kinloss base.

The RAF pulled out of Kinloss after a strategic defence review found it was surplus to requirements.

Virgin Galactic has said the company might be willing to fly from Britain, if the conditions were right.