Virgin Orbit agreement to launch satellites from Cornwall

An artists rendering of the new Spaceport Cornwall
An artists rendering of the new Spaceport Cornwall

Virgin Orbit has entered into a partnership agreement with Spaceport Cornwall which will see satellite launches return to the UK for the first time in 50 years.

The partnership with Satellite launch provider, Virgin Orbit, will see launches from a Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021, using a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called “Cosmic Girl”.

The Jumbo-Jet 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.

This method of horizontal launching provides a cost-effective, reusable solution for launching satellites.

The partnership will see Spaceport Cornwall, which is located at Cornwall Airport, Newquay, as the UK’s only horizontal launch facility.

While Britain is a world-leader in the production of small satellites the last British satellite launch vehicle was the Black Arrow rocket in 1971. While it was made in the UK, the launches actually took place in Australia.

UK Science Minister, Sam Gyimah welcomed the partnership saying: “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.”

Horizontal launch platform
Horizontal launch platform, LauncherOne

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.”

California based Virgin Orbit will formally be signed with Cornwall Council on Monday 16th July at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Adam Paynter, Cornwall Council leader 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.”

Cosmic Girl providing the horizontal launch platform
Cosmic Girl providing the horizontal launch platform

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “Cornwall can play a key role supporting the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy ambitions and we have identified space as a major opportunity for growth. The partnership with Virgin Orbit is a clear statement that Cornwall is the best UK location for horizontal launch and opens the door to a global satellite customer base. We will work with Government to maximise UK investment and jobs and make the most of the unique environment at Spaceport Cornwall. With our clear uncongested airspace and access to launch sites over the sea, it will be a vital part of a global UK offer and we look forward to working with other UK vertical launch locations to promote trade and investment.”

Spaceport Cornwall could up to 480 jobs and contribute £25 million a year to the local economy. The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 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.

How the spaceport launches could look

About Nick Harding 1960 Articles
Nick is the senior reporter and editor at UK Aviation News as well as working freelance elsewhere. He has his finger firmly on the pulse on Aviation, not only in the UK but worldwide. Nick has been asked to speak in a professional capacity on LBC, Heart and other broadcast networks.