Satellite launches set to return to British soil after 50 years following new partnership with Virgin Orbit in Cornwall

Published on: 1st August 2018


The first British satellite launch in 50 years could take place from Cornwall within
the next three years following a new partnership with Virgin Orbit.
Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch company, has selected Spaceport Cornwall as an
ideal location to operate and deliver one of the first launches of its LauncherOne
system outside of its US home.
The last British rocket – Black Arrow – that sent a satellite into space was
launched from Australia in 1971. The new partnership deal will make history by
pioneering horizontal satellite launches from UK soil.
The news has been welcomed by UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah, who said:
“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
Virgin Orbit is seeking to provide launches from a Spaceport at Cornwall Airport
Newquay by 2021, using a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called “Cosmic Girl”.
Cosmic Girl 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.
As a horizontal air-launch platform, LauncherOne enables Virgin Orbit to conduct
low cost missions quickly and efficiently by bypassing heavily trafficked
established launch ranges. The partnership with Virgin Orbit will help position
Cornwall as having the UK’s only horizontal launch facility.
Spaceport Cornwall will provide California-based Virgin Orbit with a strategic
Western European location and make a major contribution to the Cornwall’s
ambition to create a £1 billion space economy as part of its response the UK
Industrial Strategy.
Britain is a world-leader in the production of small satellites, supporting more
than £250 billion of GDP in the wider economy, but lacks any means to get them
into space. The fast-growing global satellite launch market is predicted to be
worth around £10 billion over the next decade. It is estimated that up to 2,600
microsatellites (under 50kg) will require launch over the next five years alone.
Virgin Orbit will today (16 July 2018) sign the partnering agreement with
Cornwall Council at Farnborough International Airshow. Work will now
commence to develop a detailed plan for launch by 2021 as well as a Spaceport
and Operator Licence application.
The signing of this agreement is the culmination of over a year’s work by a team
led and funded by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership
(LEP), in partnership with Cornwall Council.
Following Virgin Orbit’s commitment, Cornwall Council will consider resources to
progress the project at a meeting of its Cabinet on a date to be confirmed.
Spaceport Cornwall could eventually create 480 jobs and contribute £25 million
a year to the local economy. The 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.
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.”
Cornwall Council leader, Adam Paynter, 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.”
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.”
The UK Government has a target of achieving commercial spaceflight from
British soil from the end of the decade, as well as increasing the UK’s share of
the global space economy from 6.5% now to 10% by 2030, which would be
worth an estimated £40 billion per annum.
The UK’s space sector has estimated annual revenues of £13.7 billion and
employs 38,500 people. It has been growing at 8% a year over the last decade,
four times as fast as the rest of the UK economy.
Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is owned by Cornwall Council, was first
unveiled as one of the UK’s potential Spaceport locations in July 2014 because of
its long runway, uncongested airspace and direct access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Cornwall is already home to Goonhilly Earth Station, famous as the world’s
largest satellite earth receiving station. Goonhilly is being upgraded through an
£8.4m LEP-funded contract with the European Space Agency, announced in
February, to become part of the deep space network, and recently secured a £24
million investment from UK billionaire Peter Hargreaves.
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Notes to Editors
For video and other media content:
1. About Spaceport Cornwall
Spaceport Cornwall will be a horizontal space launch site at Cornwall Airport
Newquay on the north coast of Cornwall in South West England. It will be
delivered through a Spaceport license, a partnership with a commercial operator
and related infrastructure to safely operate aircraft systems that intend to take
or launch items (and in time, people) into Space. Spaceport Cornwall is a
partnership between Cornwall Council and the commercial operator launch
partner Virgin Orbit, co-located at Cornwall Airport Newquay.
Spaceport Cornwall is about creating a safe low cost access to space in the UK
from 2021, achieved through upgrading existing airport infrastructure and
facilitated by, LEP and Cornwall Council investment.
2. About Cornwall Airport Newquay
Cornwall Airport Newquay is owned by Cornwall Council and managed by
Cornwall Airport Limited, a private limited company wholly owned by Cornwall
Council. It is part of Aerohub, a UK Government designated Enterprise Zone
which provides business rate relief to encourage investment and is the largest
planning-free development site in the UK. Cornwall Airport Newquay was first
unveiled as one of the UK’s potential Spaceport locations in July 2014 because of
its long runway (2,744 metres), uncongested airspace and direct access over the
Atlantic Ocean
3. About Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit provides dedicated, responsive, and affordable launch services for
small satellites. Virgin Orbit designs, manufactures, tests, and operates a system
called LauncherOne, a flexible launch service for commercial and governmentbuilt
satellites. LauncherOne rockets are made in the USA in Long Beach,
California, and will be air-launched from a dedicated 747-400 carrier aircraft
capable of operating from many locations in order to best serve each customer’s
needs. Virgin Orbit’s systems are currently in an advanced stage of testing, with
initial orbital launches expected soon. To learn more or to apply to join Virgin
Orbit’s talented and growing team, visit
For more information:
For interviews at the Farnborough International Airshow please contact Kavita
Winn on the Cornwall Aerospace stand (Hall 1, Stand 1350) on 07968-447203,
For all other queries please contact Jason Clark at DCA Public Relations on
07980-834368, email, or Shirley Northey at Cornwall
Council on 01872-322187, email