Spaceport Cornwall set for new launch plans

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Spaceport Cornwall and launch partner Virgin Orbit will launch the Amber-1 satellite, a partnership between the Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, later this year.

Spaceport Cornwall
L-R: Sir Richard Branson, Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, Michael Curtis Rouse, Head of Access to Space, The Satellite Applications Catapult and Dan Hart, CEO Virgin Orbit

This agreement to launch the latest satellite in the Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme, funded by Innovate UK and the UK Space Agency, is expected to mark the first ever orbital launch from a UK spaceport.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket will launch Amber-1 into space, aiming to demonstrate how launch from the UK can benefit Britain's growing space sector and enable organisations to rapidly deploy new technologies to orbit, with a complete end-to-end capability coordinated from UK soil.

Built by CubeSat manufacturer AAC Clyde Space in Scotland, Amber-1 is expected to be the first of more than 20 planned ‘Amber’ satellites to provide Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) data to users.

Using patented technology, the system will geolocate and demodulate radio frequency (RF) data from ships around the world. Horizon Technologies’ data will be used by governments to provide information on the tracking and prevention of illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy, and terrorism.

Information collected through the programme will be provided to the UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC). John Beckner, CEO of Horizon Technologies, said that the satellite will ‘revolutionise’ maritime RF detection from space using single CubeSats rather than expensive clusters.

“We believe tracking shipping from space is vital to keeping the seas safe and that Amber-1 is a key technology that will aid this endeavour,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

“This important technology, and Virgin Orbit’s collaboration with the Catapult are the latest signs of the growth we are seeing across the UK space economy. This is galvanized by our planned capability to launch straight from the United Kingdom to orbit.”

Head of Spaceport Cornwall Melissa Thorpe added that the launch will be integral to the UK’s maritime safety, benefitting the general public and the marine ecosystem.

“This is a larger scale representation of what we are trying to achieve through Kernow Sat-1, with the monitoring of ocean health around the coast of Cornwall. This mission encapsulates using space for good, by demonstrating how increased Earth Observation can aid humanity and our environment.”