Virgin Orbit to launch satellites from Cornwall

16 July 2018, 07:32 | Updated: 16 July 2018, 08:03

It's lift off for Cornwall's space dreams...

The first British satellite launch in 50 years could take place from Cornwall, following a new partnership with Virgin Orbit.

Virgin Orbit wants to deliver one of the first launches of its LauncherOne system outside of its US home, in Newquay.

UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah says “The announcement of a strategic partnership between Virgin Orbit and Cornwall Spaceport is great news for the region and the UK’s ambitions for regular, reliable and responsible access to space.

"This partnership could see Virgin Orbit’s innovative horizontal launch technology helping the UK’s small satellite industry access space from the convenience of a Spaceport in Cornwall. 

"We will work with both partners to support their ambitions, as we take the next steps in our national spaceflight programme as part of the government’s modern Industrial strategy.”

A modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called “Cosmic Girl", will carry a LauncherOne rocket 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.

The partnership with Virgin Orbit will help position Cornwall as having the UK’s only horizontal launch facility. 

Virgin Orbit will today sign the agreement with Cornwall Council at Farnborough International Airshow.

It's hoped launches could take place by 2021.

Spaceport Cornwall could eventually create 480 jobs and contribute £25 million a year to the local economy. The LEP’s Space Action Plan predicts that the wider space sector could create thousands more jobs in Cornwall and by 2030 be worth £1 billion a year.

Patrick McCall, Managing Director 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 Council leader, Adam Paynter, said: “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.”

Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is owned by Cornwall Council, was first unveiled as one of the UK’s potential Spaceport locations in July 2014 because of its long runway, uncongested airspace and direct access to the Atlantic Ocean.

Cornwall is already home to Goonhilly Earth Station, famous as the world’s largest satellite earth receiving station.