UK Space Agency approves £7.35 million grant to support air-launch from Cornwall

UKSA Grant to fund Additional Studies and Design and Manufacturing of Ground Support Equipment

Grant funding has been given to Virgin Orbit UK Limited, the UK branch of Sir Richard Branson’s satellite launch company, to enable the horizontal launch of small satellites from Cornwall Airport Newquay. In addition to funds and support provided by Virgin Orbit, the UKSA grant comes as part of a broader £20 million funding package for Cornwall Airport Newquay infrastructure announced in June, which is pending final approval by Cornwall Council later this month.

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The funds will be used to develop launch operations support systems and manufacture them in the UK, as well as to conduct mission planning, and to further ready the facility for satellite launches from Cornwall with the first spaceflight targeted for as soon as the fourth quarter of 2021, subject to U.S. and U.K. regulatory approvals. These launches will be conducted using Virgin Orbit’s innovative air launch system, LauncherOne, and are expected to be the first orbital launches ever conducted from the UK, as well as the first horizontal launches ever conducted in Europe.

CEO of Virgin Orbit, Dan Hart, said; “We’re tremendously excited to be supporting the UKSA and Cornwall Council by bringing space launch to the UK, a capability that will boost UK participation in a fast-growing global space economy while providing direct, ready, and responsive access to space for Her Majesty’s Government. We very much look forward to furthering our ties with the cutting-edge satellite innovators across the UK and with local industry, who will be critical partners in fulfilling the full potential of this endeavor. 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 human kind, serve national security, and explore our solar system”.

Cornwall Councillor Geoff Brown, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Transport said; “The finalisation and commitment of the £7.35m is a major milestone.  This, together with the UKSA Horizontal Fund and LEP Growth Deal Fund, takes investment to Spaceport Cornwall to over £8m. This agreement also confirms Virgin Orbit’s commitment to Cornwall and the UK.

“It allows Cornwall Council to make a decision in November to invest with confidence that the Spaceport project will now go ahead without delay and head rapidly towards a historic launch in 2021. This launch will be the catalyst for local jobs, allows Cornwall and the UK to lead on more sustainable launch, grow an industry cluster that uses space applications to address climate change and is an incredible opportunity to inspire the next generation to pursue a space or science career.”

Chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Mark Duddridge, said; “This is a massive vote of confidence in Virgin Orbit’s technology and a breakthrough moment in Cornwall and the UK’s satellite launch ambitions. The LEP is investing over £9m in Cornwall’s space economy because we want to seize a global opportunity, and Spaceport Cornwall is a critical part of that.”

The first phase of Spaceport Cornwall is expected to create 150 jobs and generate £200m for the Cornish economy.  The jobs will create local employment with many roles locally sourced including opportunities across operational support and engineering. The project will offer long term work opportunities for local communities and inspire children to consider a career in the space industry. 

The total funding package includes £2.5m from Virgin Orbit, £500,000 from Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and £12m from Cornwall Council (subject to Full Council approval).

Story posted 08 November 2019