Spaceport Cornwall: Virgin Orbit’s UK base

12th Apr 2020
Spaceport Cornwall: Virgin Orbit’s UK base

The UK has every chance of becoming the space center of Europe in the next few years. The British government and the UK Space Agency are planning to build several local spaceports for launching light-class launch vehicles, and by 2030 they plan to add suborbital passenger transportation to cargo flights. Spaceport Cornwall is one of the launch locations.

Cornwall Airport Newquay is ready to upgrade

Spaceport Cornwall in South West England may become of the first UK spaceport. Cornwall Airport Newquay commercial hub is located 7km northeast of the city of Newquay, on the northern coast of Cornwall. The location at an altitude of 120m above sea level has an already established infrastructure of the airport with a runway of almost 3 thousand meters are perfect for horizontal space launches.

This is exactly the type of launches that Virgin Orbit, owned by British businessman and billionaire Richard Branson, is interested in.

Branson is among the top three pioneers of the so-called New Space, along with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who founded the first private aerospace companies SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic. While Musk relies on cargo delivery, Bezos and Branson are interested in passenger flights. 

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl ready for action

Virgin Orbit is a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic, a company developing LauncherOne light vehicle. This carrier does not take off from the ground, but from the wing of a Boeing 747 at an altitude of 10 thousand meters. This significantly reduces the launch cost, since such carrier does not require expensive ground-based infrastructure. Besides, it needs less fuel than vehicles lifting off from the ground, which, in turn, accounts for the carrier’s compact dimensions. 

In 2016, Virgin Galactic gave its subsidiary a Boeing 747-400 converted for space launches. Branson named this carrier “Cosmic Girl” after the same-name song by his favorite music band Jamiroquai. Cosmic Girl and Launcher One have already passed the first successful tests and have every chance of starting commercial launches in the next year and a half. At the same time, the company is coordinating and getting ready for spaceport construction.

In November 2019, the UK Space Agency allocated Virgin Orbit a grant for Cornwall spaceport construction. The Cornwall Council funded approximately £12m more.

Richard Branson and Virgin Orbit are optimistic and have support at all levels. Constructing a spaceport on the basis of Cornwall Airport Newquay will not have a negative effect on local environment according to the project leaders. At the same time, a new spaceport from Virgin Orbit could significantly boost Southwest England’s economy.

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