Funding confirmed for Virgin Orbit’s Cornwall spaceport

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Virgin Orbit UK will receive £7.35m from the UK Space Agency to develop facilities for its planned spaceport at Cornwall’s Newquay Airport. 

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According to the Space Agency, the UK subsidiary of Virgin Orbit will use the funds to develop advanced ground support equipment and conduct mission planning. The first horizontal launch of small satellites from the site is planned for the early 2020s, subject to regulatory approvals. It’s claimed that Spaceport Cornwall could create 150 direct jobs, with many more jobs indirectly supported across the local community.  

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“By establishing a strong local hub for our launch system, this joint project will boost UK participation in a fast-growing global space economy while also providing direct, ready, and responsive access to space for government missions,” said Virgin Orbit CEO, Dan Hart. 

“We’re eager to set up a world-class launch facility at Spaceport Cornwall, bring domestic space launch to the UK, and launch the next generation of satellite developers in their quest to better understand our Earth and our environment, connect humankind, serve national security, and explore our solar system.”

Pending regulatory approvals on both sides of the Atlantic, Virgin Orbit plans to operate its LauncherOne system from Newquay AIrport using a modified Boeing 747 jet, known as Cosmic Girl. It will be capable of delivering small satellites of up to 500kg into sun-synchronous Low Earth Orbit (LEO). LauncherOne’s maiden flight is tentatively slated for December 2019, though a location and exact date have yet to be revealed.   

The UK Space Agency originally announced its intention to award funding to Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit in June, subject to approval, as part of a wider £20m funding package from Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership. The confirmation follows the completion of the necessary due diligence and conclusion of the grant agreement with Virgin Orbit UK Limited. Cornwall Council is expected to confirm whether they will award £10m capital funding to the project at a council meeting later this month.

“We want the UK to be the first country in Europe to give its small satellite manufacturers a clear route from the factory to the spaceport,” said science minister Chris Skidmore.  

“That’s why it’s so important that we are developing new infrastructure to allow aircraft to take off and deploy satellites, a key capability that the UK currently lacks.”