Spaceport: What's next for Cornwall's space industry?

Virgin Orbit
Tonight will be the first ever orbital space launch from British soil Credit: Virgin Orbit

A decade ago the idea of launching satellites into orbit from a windswept airport runway in Newquay was a pipe dream.

But now Cornwall is preparing to take the first small steps in the UK's mission to join the space race.

Some hope that will mean a giant leap for the Duchy's fortunes.

A successful Spaceport launch out of Newquay will mean satellites that will orbit the earth can now be built, launched and monitored from Cornwall.

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: "It's just another chapter in that innovation that Cornwall's always pioneered.

"So for us, it's just going to feel really good to kind of get Cornwall back on that global stage for a really amazing reason."

Aircraft Cosmic Girl and the Launcher One Rocket Credit: Virgin Orbit

A rapidly expanding space sector is taking shape at Newquay's Aerohub alongside the airport, and home of Spaceport Cornwall's hangar.

Amongst them, Space firm Blue Abyss is planning to build an astronaut training centre at the Aerohub which will include the world's largest and deepest indoor pool.

Elsewhere in the Duchy 40 miles from the spaceport launch site Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station on the Lizard will play a vital role in the first launch and beyond, remote controlling two antennae that will track the mission.

CEO of Goonhilly Earth Station Ian Jones said: "It seems that everyday now we are doing something new and exciting and different.

"We haven't really supported direct launches here from Goonhilly before, so actually being able to support the Virgin Orbit launch right in that launch phase is fantastic.

"We support missions that are launching from Cape Canaveral as they fly across the Atlantic, but they've already got into space by the time they come over Goonhilly. 

"For this, we're actually tracking the launch from Cosmic Girl itself so it's tremendously exciting."

An Antennae at Goonhilly Earth Station Credit: Graham Gaunt

Mission operations engineer Tom Winterton from Marazion will be part of the team tracking the launch.

The 23-year-old said: "The fact that I get to be at home still, in my home county, working in my favourite industry with some really incredible people is just what dreams are made of.

"History is still being made despite Apollo happening over 50 years ago, there is still exciting stuff happening today and in some ways, the stuff that is going to happen is even more exciting than the stuff that already has."

Goonhilly Earth Station says it now expects to double its 50-strong workforce over the next few years, due to the growth in Cornwall's space sector.

The UK Space Agency says launching from UK soil will be the catalyst for job creation and growth and encourage more young people into the industry.

Matt Archer, from the UK Space Agency, said: "It's a great opportunity to inspire young people in terms of their ability to get engaged in the launch, whether that's coming to spaceport Cornwall, working for some of the local companies or equally some of the other supply chains.

"There's been a massive education outreach programme and for me, that's part of the main inspiration factor of launch, it's a real iconic moment that people can get a sense of - we're being bold and ambitious which we haven't been for a long time."

Another mission is also underway at Truro and Penwith College to create the next generation of space engineers.

The fledgling space technologies HNC course at the college's new Cornwall Space and Aerospace Technology Training centre (CSATT) is the first course of its kind in the UK.

CSATT part-funded by the European Social Fund, is based in the College’s new Valency building at the Truro campus.

Heidi Thiemann, Truro College CSATT Centre Credit: ITV News

Heidi Thiemann, project manager for CSATT Truro & Penwith College, said: "We're really excited by the fact that students are going to get this opportunity to work in the space industry.

"Spaceport Cornwall is going to boost the number of jobs here, there's going to be a huge amount of growth and we're going to be training the next generation of people who go into those jobs."

In the long term, Spaceport Cornwall estimates launching from Newquay will be worth £200 million to the local economy and generate 150 well-paid jobs, along with hundreds more supporting and supply chain jobs.

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