What's happening inside the UK's first spaceport ahead of satellite launch

  • Watch Grace Pascoe's report from Spaceport Cornwall

Spaceport Cornwall has taken delivery of its very first satellite.

Right now it's being kept Inside a clean room and is being readied for launch. When it lifts off in November this year, it will be a historic first for the UK.

Melissa Thorpe is the Head of Spaceport Cornwall. For her, the satellite's arrival is the culmination of almost a decade's worth of work.

She said: "It's somewhere between surreal and really real, I flip between the two. It's a very strange experience after eight years of work to walk in and see a satellite - it's kind of goosebumps levels at the minute.

"And then to meet all these people that are rocket engineers and satellite technicians and they're here in Cornwall.

"These are the kind of jobs that we want to create here in Cornwall and to see that it is happening here in this amazing county that we live in and this will be the future, this is just the start."

Engineers and technicians examine Spaceport Cornwall's first satellite in a clean room

In total seven satellites will be loaded into Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket for the "Start Me Up" mission.

The mission will be using a converted Boeing 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl. The aircraft is set to touch down in Newquay tomorrow (Tuesday 11 October).

It will fly the LauncherOne rocket to around 35,000ft before deploying the rocket mid-air, the plane will then head back to Newquay, while the rocket propels the satellites into earth's low orbit.

A converted Boeing 747 will take off from Newquay, carrying the LauncherOne rocket Credit: Virgin Orbit

The ambitious project needed a number of organisations and technology developers to come together.

Among them is Satellite Applications Catapult. Tim Pinchin, the company's head of marketing and communication said it is a big step for the UK.

"Up until now we've been able to build fantastic satellites - some of these satellites are just the size of a shoe box," he said. "We've built them here but we've had to ship them off to other parts of the world to launch them into space.

"As of very soon, we're going to be able to launch them from here on UK soil.

"It means that we can build the satellite here, we can design it from here, we can operate it from here but we can also now launch it from the UK."

The first satellite to be sent into orbit is called Amber 1. It's the first of Horizon's 20-plus satellites that'll one day scan the seas.

Jeff Blake from Horizon Technologies explained what the satellite will be able to do.

He said: "This will help combat a lot of issues around the world right now - piracy, smuggling, people smuggling.

"There's a lot of things that go on at sea that are unseen because of the vastness of the sea this is a good way of picking up anomalies at sea, so you can put up a camera or an aircraft, have a look, see what's going on."

Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is owned by Cornwall Council, was first unveiled as one of the UK's potential Spaceport locations in July 2014.

It was chosen because of its long runway, uncongested airspace and direct access to the Atlantic Ocean.

The project has not been without its setbacks, with the pandemic seeing £5million lost from its budget.

But now Cornwall's first step into space is just weeks away.