Cornwall becomes home to UK’s first licensed spaceport

Spaceport Cornwall has become the country’s only licensed spaceport as it prepares to host the first orbital space launch from the UK. 

Based at Cornwall Airport Newquay, the spaceport will soon see Virgin Orbit send off its LauncherOne rocket, using the company’s ‘horizontal space launch’ technique that sees a modified Boeing 747 act as the first stage of lift off by releasing the rocket at 35,000ft. 

The license was granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which became the country’s space regulator in July 2021. It will allow Virgin Orbit to carry out ‘wet dress’ rehearsals in advance of the satellite launch, that will take place after the company receives the necessary ‘launch and range licences.’ 

Head of Spaceport Cornwall, Melissa Thorpe, said: ‘To be the first spaceport in the UK with a licence to operate is a historic moment. The regulatory environment created by the Civil Aviation Authority ensures that UK launch will set the global bar in terms of responsibility and transparency.’ 

Planned to be the company’s first outside of the US, Virgin Orbit’s UK launch would be its sixth effort, with all previous launches proving successful apart from the very first test flight in May 2020. 

Dan Hart is the CEO of Virgin Orbit, which is owned by British businessman Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Mr Hart said: ‘Obtaining this license marks a point of distinction for Spaceport Cornwall, and is a key preparatory milestone for this first orbital launch from the UK.  

‘We appreciate the efforts of the British regulatory agencies with the support of the US Federal Aviation Administration in this first-time licensing process, as we strive in our respective roles to ensure a safe and successful mission in the coming weeks.’ 

The introduction of spaceports to the UK is the next step in the country’s participation in the global space industry and the CAA says it is currently progressing applications from other prospective spaceports across the country, likely including SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland. The regulator has already approved almost 150 satellite licenses. 

Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who gave consent for the licence, said the launch planned in the coming weeks ‘reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.’ 

Photo: Virgin Orbit


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