Spaceport Cornwall - The Hub of the UK's Space Future

Back in July, the UK Space Agency announced funding for new spaceports in the UK. We spoke to Spaceport Cornwall to find out why it's the best location for horizontal launches.

Cornwall and Virgin Orbit are partnering up to launch the UK back into space. 

Cornwall has a proud history of space technology. Beginning in 1962 with Goonhilly Earth Station, this South-Western county has been a key part of the first trans-Atlantic TV transmissions, beaming the Moon landings to millions. Today, Cornwall has a diverse and thriving space industry, which, by 2021, will provide the UK with horizontal launch capabilities. spoke to Spaceport Cornwall to find out more about horizontal launches, their partnership with Virgin Orbit and what you can do to get involved. Thanks for speaking to us! Can you tell us, why is Cornwall the best location for horizontal launch?

Spaceport Cornwall: Cornwall is a fantastic location for horizontal launch because of two incredible assets, Cornwall Airport Newquay and Goonhilly Earth Station. The airport has one of the longest runways in the UK (2,744 metres), with direct access over the sea, low residential build up and low levels of air traffic congestion. It also has access to segregated airspace and a good trajectory to polar orbit. With state-of-the-art infrastructure on site, the airport can handle the Virgin Orbit (VO) system without any major upgrades, making it a low-cost solution. Goonhilly Earth Station is a global-leading ground station that can track and monitor space systems from the airport. This package makes Cornwall the best place in the UK for horizontal launch.

"Horizontal launch allows low-cost, reuseable, access to space"

SC: What are the benefits of a horizontal spaceport over a vertical launch site?

Spaceport Cornwall: Horizontal launch allows low-cost, reuseable, access to space. The VO spaceflight approach minimizes impacts on the environment as an air-launch architecture can minimize impacts. Horizontal launch using traditional and high efficiency commercial air transport engines reduces fuel burn and noise impacts, lifting to high altitude which significantly reduces the amount of propellant required to reach space. Rocket motor ignition, supersonic flight, occurs at significant distance above the ground and away from population -  to minimize noise and pollutants compared to vertical rocket launch.  Horizontal launch from Cornwall will also showcase the first location in the world that fully integrates space launch with traditional commercial airline passenger services.  

What take off of Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall might look like.

SC: What benefits will this bring to the South West? 

Spaceport Cornwall: We are currently engaging with the entire South West aerospace and space cluster to look at supply chain opportunities as well as educational outreach projects.

"From tech companies working on AR and VR to tourism companies...the benefits of the project will be felt across the entire South West"

 We want to look at ways local companies can use their current capabilities to meet the requirements of space launch.  EU Programmes like AeroSpace Cornwall will be using grant funding to expand the supply chain and promote R&D activities across all sectors in the UK. From tech companies working on AR and VR to tourism companies that can benefit from future space tourism, the benefits of the project will be felt across the entire South West.

SC: What job opportunities will be coming up in Cornwall? 

Spaceport Cornwall: We expect the initial phase of the Spaceport project to create 448 jobs by 2028.

SC: How can people get involved in Spaceport Cornwall? 

Spaceport Cornwall: We are currently developing the next phase of the project with our partner Virgin Orbit. This will include education outreach programmes, payload and supply chain events, and local community events. At the moment, we are heavily engaged on social media and love to chat with people about all things space and launch!

SC: So, will Cornwall be the next space hub of the UK? 

Spaceport Cornwall: Cornwall’s space sector has been growing steadily for the past few years, and with recent investment into Goonhilly Earth Station, Flann Microwave’s recent contract with NASA, Satellite Catapult, and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership investment in the spaceport team. Cornwall Council recently released their New Frontiers campaign, which sets out the devolution plans for Cornwall post Brexit, which highlights space as a major priority to the local government. We see the spaceport as only part of the overall space story in Cornwall.

"We see the spaceport as only part of the overall space story in Cornwall"

For more information, visit the Spaceport Cornwall website or find them on Twitter @SpaceCornwall


Heidi Thiemann

Heidi is a PhD student studying variable stars using SuperWASP at the Open University.

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