Cornwall Spaceport could come to Newquay by end of 2020, says Virgin Orbit boss

Virgin Orbit has successfully tested the modified Boeing 747 aircraft known as 'Cosmic Girl'. Credit: Virgin Orbit

The head of Virgin Orbit has told ITV West Country that Newquay Airport could be sending satellites into space by the end of next year.

On his first visit to Cornwall, CEO Dan Hart revealed more about the company's ambitious plans to build a fully-functioning commercial spaceport, generating millions for the local economy and inspiring a new generation to explore space.

Last week Virgin Orbit successfully tested a rocket carrying a satellite into space from a modified aircraft over the Mojave desert.

Mr Hart told us this is a major step forward for what could be the UK's first commercial spaceport.

We verified that the rocket separates cleanly from the 747 which was very important, a really big milestone, and it signals the end of that flight test programme, and so right now we have a flight rocket that's in our factory, it's finishing off system testing, and we will be delivering that our of our factory by the end of the month, we'll take it on an extended launch campaign, and then assuming all of the paperwork is closed and processed we'll come here hopefully by the end of 2020 mid-2021 and then start operating periodically from Newquay. We're at a renaissance for space right now with a whole new set of technologies coming in for satellites and space capabilities. We're feeling it through our lives as we travel, as we communicate, as we travel, as we understand our world.

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO
Cornwall has been bidding to build a spaceport for the last five years. Credit: Virgin Orbit

The investment is expected to create up to 150 new jobs and give small satellites the ability to launch directly from Newquay within the next few years.

This new technology would enable the UK to compete for a share of the global market for launching small satellites - worth a potential £3.9 billion over the next ten years.

The funding would be made up of £12 million from Cornwall Council, and up to £7.85 million from the UK Space Agency. This would also include a contribution of £0.5 million from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

The test took place over the Mojave desert in the USA. Credit: Virgin Orbit

Globally it will be the only place in the entire world that we're integrating space flight with normal aircraft movements at an operational civilian airport, so we think it's incredibly exciting for Cornwall to have that badge of honour. And to get children excited and involved in STEM subjects as well, so we think there's huge opportunities for Cornwall going forward with space.

Melissa Thorpe, Spaceport Cornwall
Melissa Thorpe from Spaceport Cornwall hopes young people will be inspired by the project. Credit: ITV News