Cornwall will be the home for Europe’s first horizontal launch spaceport after funding was secured for the project from the UK Space Agency.
Cornwall Council will provide up to £12 million funding for the scheme, subject to approval by full council, alongside up to £7.85 million from the UK Space Agency. A further contribution of £500,000 will come from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.
The funding will allow Spaceport Cornwall and US launch operator Virgin Orbit, which is also investing an additional £2.5 million, to develop facilities and operational capabilities that would enable small satellite launch from Cornwall in the early 2020s.
Spaceport Cornwall could create 150 jobs and enable the UK to compete for a share of the global market for launching small satellites worth £3.9 billion to 2030.
Launch from the UK will be an opportunity to inspire children and young people to take up careers in science, engineering or even as space entrepreneurs.
The funding is subject to business case and final approvals, including from Cornwall Council later this year.
Leader of Cornwall Council Julian German said: “Cornwall is the birthplace of innovation and technology and space is a key part of a 21st century economy.
“With assets like Spaceport Cornwall, world-class mission control facilities at Goonhilly Earth Station and superb digital connectivity, Cornwall can play a vital role in the growth of the global space economy.”
The UK Government is working with the United States to establish the necessary technical and legal safeguards for US space launch vehicle operations from UK launch sites.
The US State Department has already approved a Technical Assistance Agreement allowing detailed technical discussions and strategic planning to commence.
This would allow Virgin Orbit, which is also investing around £2.5 million in the project, to operate its LauncherOne system and Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft from Cornwall Airport Newquay. A maiden US launch is expected later this year.
CEO of Virgin Orbit Dan Hart said: “We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain - with a revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness. The Virgin Orbit team has now demonstrated every major assembly of our LauncherOne system and are within arm’s reach of bringing to the UK. We’re thankful for the leadership of Minister Skidmore, MP Steve Double, Cornwall Council, the LEP and the UK Space Agency in making this partnership a reality.”