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Cabinet agrees to support investment in Spaceport Cornwall

At their meeting today (18 September 2019), Cabinet members voted by 6 to 4 to recommend to councillors that the Council invests up to £12m in developing the Spaceport Cornwall Programme.

If full Council agrees in November, the bulk of the money will come from capital budgets and will not negatively impact on the delivery of any other service.  It will be used to develop facilities and operational capabilities at Cornwall Airport Newquay that would enable plans by satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to send small satellites into space from Spaceport Cornwall using a modified Boeing 747.

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The plane carries a rocket under its wing and drops it at high altitude, over the Atlantic, for onward travel into space, where its satellite payload is deployed into low earth orbit.  The launch vehicle then returns to the Airport and is able to be reused repeatedly.

Subject to the funding being agreed, there is expected to be one launch in 2021, with up to no more than eight a year projected by 2025.

Funding of £7.85m for the project has already been announced for the project from the UK Space Agency.  A contribution of £0.5 million will come from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.  US launch operator Virgin Orbit, will be investing an additional £2.5 million.

Members heard that 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.  

An independent scientific study by a leading energy and environment specialist at the University of Exeter has said that the proposed horizontal launch Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay is not expected to impact significantly on Cornwall’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and efforts in combatting climate change.

Geoff Brown, Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for transport said: “It’s important to emphasise that what is being proposed in Cornwall are horizontal launches of satellites – not vertical launches or space tourism.  Leading the way in satellite based technology can help us worldwide by allowing us to collect data and explore the impacts of climate change from space. This information has global benefits in helping to manage the earth’s resources more wisely.  It will also help existing industries become more efficient as we all work together, as we must, to reduce emissions overall and battle against climate change”

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership said: “This was a bold and important decision by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet and an important step towards creating the conditions for the space sector to flourish in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The LEP is already investing £8.4m to upgrade Goonhilly Earth Station for deep space communications, which has helped to attract £25m of additional private investment. We expect Spaceport Cornwall to have a similar catalytic effect, creating high quality jobs in a fast-growing sector of the economy.”

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 opportunities for work for our local communities and we are working with our schools to raise ambitions and inspire children to consider a career in the space industry.  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 University of Exeter’s study will inform a carbon offset strategy for Spaceport Cornwall which includes £50,000 for planting trees as part of a proposed Forest for Cornwall, which Cornwall Council outlined in its Climate Emergency Action Plan last month.

The aim is to ensure that any carbon emissions from a spaceport are more than offset. In time, satellite launch operators such as Virgin Orbit will be required to meet the carbon costs of operations through their launch fees, in line with the Council’s vision to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.


Story posted 18 September 2019