The UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council intend to make available up to £20 million for Spaceport Cornwall and US launch operator Virgin Orbit to develop facilities and operational capabilities that would enable small satellite launch from Cornwall in the early 2020s.
This investment remains subject to business case approval processes, including
from Cornwall Council later this year. The funding would consist of up to £12 million from Cornwall Council and up to £7.85 million from the UK Space Agency, including a contribution of £0.5 million from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.
Spaceport Cornwall could create 150 jobs and enable the UK to compete for a share of the global market for launching small satellites worth a potential £3.9 billion to 2030. Launch from the UK will be an opportunity to inspire children and young people to take up careers in science, engineering or even as space entrepreneurs.
“Space is not only about pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, it is a rapidly
growing sector of our economy which plays a key role in our modern Industrial Strategy, promotes Global Britain and ensures our national security,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark. “These exciting plans from Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit to make horizontal launch a reality from Cornwall will help further our position as a leader in the New Space Age. Alongside our commitment to the proposed vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland, this is making the UK the most attractive place in Europe for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond.”
The UK Government is working with the United States to establish the necessary technical and legal safeguards for US space launch vehicle operations from UK launch sites. The US State Department has already approved a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) allowing detailed technical discussions and strategic planning to commence. This would allow Virgin Orbit, which is also investing around £2.5 million in the project, to operate its LauncherOne system and Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft from Cornwall Airport Newquay. A maiden US launch is expected later this year.
“We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain – with a
revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “The Virgin Orbit team has now demonstrated every major assembly of our LauncherOne system and are within arm’s reach of bringing to the UK. We’re thankful for the leadership of Minister Skidmore, MP Steve Double, Cornwall Council, the LEP and the UK Space Agency in making this partnership a reality.”
Last month Science Minister, Chris Skidmore, visited Cornwall Airport Newquay to meet some of those involved in Cornwall’s thriving space sector and hear more about their ambitious plans for horizontal spaceflight.
“Cornwall is the birthplace of innovation and technology and space is at the heart of our 21st century economy,” Julian German, Leader of Cornwall Council. “With assets like Spaceport Cornwall, world-class mission control facilities at Goonhilly Earth Station and superb digital connectivity, Cornwall will play a vital role in the growth of the global space economy.”
The UK Space Agency is also providing €8 (£7) million funding for leading scientists at UCL to develop a new instrument – a ‘plasma analyser’ – to monitor space weather. When placed in space between the Earth and the Sun, this would give early warnings to allow industry and space operators to take corrective action to protect assets such as power grids.
The UK Space Agency and European Space Agency (ESA) will collaborate closely on
science, space and ground systems technology with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. In the next five years NOAA and ESA, with support from the UK, are planning to launch two complementary space weather monitoring spacecraft