Of the many US headlines that emerged from April’s Space Symposium in Colorado, there was one in particular that caught my attention: “The British are
coming—for the rocket-launching industry.” And it’s true. I was there to promote Britain as a launch-site for spacecraft, and more specifically Spaceport Cornwall, as Europe’s premier location for commercial spaceflight.
At which point you say, “Cornwall? Really? Are you serious?” And I reply, “yes—very.” So serious in fact that we believe that, within the next decade, the space industry could become a major employer in Cornwall.
We have cause for confidence. The proposed site of our spaceport is Cornwall Airport Newquay, one of the UK’s fastest growing and most modern airports. We are not talking about launching rockets from the ground. Our plan is to launch conventional aircraft that carry spacecraft, which will then be launched from the air (see artist’s impression, right). To do that you need a long runway, and the one at Newquay is 1.7 miles long.
There are numerous satellite launch systems being developed around the world that use aircraft as a mobile launch platform for satellites. It’s cheap (comparatively), reusable, and can use existing airport infrastructure. We also have something no one else has—Goonhilly Earth Station. Already well-known as the world’s largest satellite-receiving station, it will soon be upgraded thanks to an £8.4m investment from our Local Enterprise Partnership. It will become part of the deep space network, capable of communicating with future missions to the Moon and Mars.
A combination of these two means Cornwall can offer both a launch solution for commercial space flight, and a tracking communications service for spacecraft. As well as this, southwest England has the largest concentration of aerospace and defence capabilities in Europe.
And all this is being driven by the burgeoning global space economy, and the UK government’s desire to win a much greater slice of it. Britain already produces around 44 per cent of the world’s small satellites, but we lack any means to get them into space. We want to increase the UK’s share of the global space sector from 6.5 to 10 per cent by 2030, and if the UK can build spaceports, it will be able to tap into the rapidly-expanding launch…