SPACE flights are set to take off from Cornwall Airport Newquay within the next three years after the facility was chosen to become the first hori..." />
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News Archive > General > Newquay Spaceport has lift off!

Newquay Spaceport has lift off!

By Warren Wilkins 18th July 2018

Newquay Spaceport has lift off!

SPACE flights are set to take off from Cornwall Airport Newquay within the next three years after the facility was chosen to become the first horizontal launch spaceport in the UK.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch company, has selected Spaceport Cornwall as the “best” strategic location in Europe to operate its LauncherOne system outside of its US home, which could create 480 jobs and contribute £25 million a year to the local economy in the next 10 years.

A modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called Cosmic Girl will carry a LauncherOne under its wing to a launch range over the Atlantic and release the rocket at around 35,000 feet for onward flight into space, carrying a satellite into Earth orbit.

Virgin Orbit has yet to test out the launch system from its base at Long Beach in California though a maiden flight is “imminent.”

The company hopes to launch three satellites from Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021, which could be utilised for anything from monitoring the weather, relaying communications and taking pictures of activity on Earth.

Virgin Orbit signed the partnering agreement with Cornwall Council at Farnborough International Airshow on Monday.

The signing of the agreement is the culmination of over a year’s work by a team led and funded by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, in partnership with Cornwall Council and could lead to a further deal with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which aims to launch space tourism flights.

Virgin Orbit has chosen Cornwall Airport Newquay as the ideal location for a spaceport because it has one of the UK’s longest runways, has uncongested and unrestricted airspace with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean, boasts 100% business rate relief and is the largest planning-free development site in the UK while its partner Goonhilly Earth Station offers mission control, tracking and communication facilities. Newquay airport is also on the doorstep of one of the most diverse and capable aerospace clusters in the world, with more than 900 aerospace-related companies operating across the South West region, contributing some £3.2 billion to the economy.

Patrick McCall, the managing director of Virgin Group and chairman of Virgin Orbit’s board of directors, said:  “Cornwall can deliver new launch capabilities for the UK quickly and efficiently by upgrading Cornwall Airport Newquay to support our horizontal air-launch platform. The Cornwall partnership allows us to grasp important market share, gain instant global launch market credibility and, with the technology already being tested in the US, further lower our risk.”

Cornwall Airport Newquay could benefit from a slice of a new £2million Government fund being made available to grow its sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions.

Spaceport Cornwall director Miles Carden does not believe there will be any significant set up costs involved as there will be “minimal adaptations” needed at Newquay airport to launch satellites into space. He stated Virgin Orbital would not be putting any large investment in other than bringing its technology over. A hangar could be built at Spaceport Cornwall during phase two of the project.

Goonhilly is being upgraded through an £8.4m LEP-funded contract with the European Space Agency, announced in February, to become part of the deep space network, and recently secured a £24 million investment from UK billionaire Peter Hargreaves.

Prime Minister Theresa May sees horizontal launch sites as having a significant potential in a future UK spaceflight market. The UK’s space sector has estimated annual revenues of £13.7 billion and employs 38,500 people. It has been growing at 8% a year over the last decade, four times as fast as the rest of the UK economy.

Britain is a world-leader in the production of small satellites, supporting more than £250 billion of GDP in the wider economy, but lacks any means to get them into space. The fast-growing global satellite launch market is predicted to be worth around £10 billion over the next decade. It is estimated that up to 2,600 microsatellites under 50kg will require launch over the next five years alone.

Mr Carden sees the deal as a three way partnership between the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Virgin Orbit and the Government as it will be vital to secure a licence from the Government to operate the space flights from Cornwall Airport Newquay. Work will now start to develop a detailed plan as well as a Spaceport and Operator Licence application.

Cornwall Council will consider resources to progress the project following Virgin Orbit’s commitment  at a meeting of its Cabinet on the July 24. Chief executive Kate Kennally stated at a media briefing at County Hall on Friday there will be no “significant” funding provided by Cornwall Council to get the spaceport off the ground. She said a marketing campaign will be carried out to get other partners onboard now that Virgin Orbit has signed up.

Mrs Kennally said: “We feel Cornwall has got a real opportunity. I’m really pleased the market has chosen us for the space port.

“I’m very clear there will be no significant investment from Cornwall Council. It is about using the infrastructure there at Newquay.

“We believe the operator will grow the infrastructure in line with market activity. There will be no white elephant. The space port will grow in proportion to the level of activity there will be there. It is not something we can do on our own. It has got to be a three way partnership.”

Cornwall Council leader Adam Paynter, added: “This is a game-changing partnership that will inspire a generation and create a new industry in Cornwall. The challenge now is to make the most of this hard-won opportunity so that it can deliver on its enormous potential not just for Cornwall but for the UK as a whole. We look forward to welcoming Virgin Orbit to Cornwall and working with HM Government to realise the potential.”

Mark Duddridge, the chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “Cornwall can play a key role supporting the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy ambitions and we have identified space as a major opportunity for growth.  The partnership with Virgin Orbit is a clear statement that Cornwall is the best UK location for horizontal launch and opens the door to a global satellite customer base. 

“We will work with Government to maximise UK investment and jobs and make the most of the unique environment at Spaceport Cornwall. With our clear uncongested airspace and access to launch sites over the sea, it will be a vital part of a global UK offer and we look forward to working with other UK vertical launch locations to promote trade and investment.”

Newquay central Cornwall councillor Geoff Brown, the Cabinet member for Transport, said: “The spaceport is a fantastic opportunity for young people. My ambition when I was younger was to become a train driver. Now they will have the opportunity of space instead of having to leave Cornwall to get a well paid job. They will be able to do that in the county.”

Mr Carden believes the agreement with Virgin Orbital is the first step for Spaceport Cornwall as there was no reason why space tourism could not be possible from the facility in the future.

Mr Carden said: "We have got the Virgin Orbit partnership and we are looking at ways to bring their other systems to the UK in the longer term.

"But when you have passengers in a vehicle there are more regulations. We want to wait and see those regulations first and see whether we can bring that to the UK. There are a lot of other systems out there as well and we want to see whether we can be a launch for those as well."

By Warren Wilkins 18th July 2018

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