Self-taught rocket scientist Steve Bennett is on a mission to make space travel safe and affordable for all – from an industrial estate in Greater Manchester

The shutters peel back on a workshop tucked away on an industrial estate in Greater Manchester, and a bright spring light breaks in. White cones and tubular structures lie on their sides next to stepladders and buckets of paint. The neighbouring units here house a sports nutrition company, an NHS wheelchair depot and a building contractor, but lot No 7 is where Steve Bennett builds rockets.

Long before Richard Branson or Elon Musk entered the new space race, Bennett and a small team, comprised mostly of volunteers, have been working towards making affordable commercial suborbital flights a real possibility. Over the past 20 years, on a fraction of their rivals’ budgets, they have flown about 20 rockets to plot the journey towards their first manned flight.

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