Spaceport Cornwall is set to be Europe’s first horizontal launch spaceport, putting our region at the heart of the fast-growing global space economy and in the vanguard of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In a hugely significant step, the UK Space Agency (UKSA) has confirmed it is prepared to make up to £7.85 million available to enable satellite launches from Spaceport Cornwall. This includes a £0.5 million contribution from the Cornwall & Isles of Silly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) from the Government’s Local Growth Fund.
A further £12 million has been earmarked by Cornwall Council to upgrade facilities at Cornwall Airport Newquay, subject to full council approval later this year.
This £20 million package means we expect to see the launch of small satellites from Newquay in the early 2020s. And it’s a huge potential market. Between 2012 and 2018, over 1,300 small satellites were launched, and that number is set to increase with companies like Boeing and SpaceX developing constellations that could number thousands.
Satellites play an increasingly important part in our daily lives, from communications and navigation, to vital earth observations that help us monitor weather and climate, track disease and grow crops.
And low cost access to space is important for the UK’s thriving space sector, which builds more satellites than any other country.
By 2030, the global small satellite launch market is expected to be worth £3.9 billion, and because technology is getting smaller and smaller, you do not need huge rockets to get them into space.
Virgin Orbit has pioneered a launch system that uses a rocket mounted under the wing of a Boeing 747 aircraft. Once it reaches high altitude, the rocket detaches and powers into space where it can deploy satellites ranging in size from a toaster to a fridge, while the aircraft returns to earth. This is what Virgin Orbit plans to fly out of Spaceport Cornwall.
In the coming years Spaceport Cornwall is projected to create 150 direct jobs and over £200 million for the Cornish economy by tapping into that growing launch market, with thousands more potential jobs in the supply chain and other industries that make use of satellite data.
An example is Cornish company Paddle Logger, which has created an app for water sports enthusiasts to track and analyse their journeys on the water, based on location data provided by satellites.
Or world-leading microwave engineering company Flann Microwave in Bodmin, which is supplying components to the US space agency NASA for an international satellite that will make the first ever global survey of the Earth’s surface water. That mission launches in 2021.
Space and Spaceport are also inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers in Cornwall. Only last month a team from Newquay Treviglas School won the UKSA’s SatelLife Challenge competition, which invites schools across the country to come up with innovative uses for satellite data.
The Newquay teenagers were overall national team winners for Satoilite, an app which allows people to find public toilets when travelling and rate their experience. Another team from Helston were runners-up for their idea of a GPS tracker to find plane crash survivors.
Last year two Cornish teams celebrated success in the same competition for their ideas to use satellite location technology to keep sea users safe, and for an app to track the spread of infectious diseases.
As we develop more and more uses for satellite data, so the opportunities for innovation, new businesses and well-paid jobs will grow.
That’s especially true in Cornwall where we are harnessing our distinctive assets to drive our economy. As well as Spaceport Cornwall we have one of the best digital networks in Europe with a fast-growing tech and creative cluster that knows how to add value to raw data.
And we have Goonhilly Earth Station, which thanks to a LEP investment of £8.4 million is working with the European Space Agency to become part of the deep space communications network, able to track future missions to the Moon and Mars.
It was Goonhilly’s iconic satellite dish ‘Arthur’ which broadcast the Moon landings in July 1969 as the word held its breath, and the site celebrates the 50th anniversary this summer with a day of music, science, art and culture.
So, space has been in Cornwall’s DNA for more than half a century, and for centuries before that we have been science and technology pioneers.
The UKSA’s huge vote of confidence in Cornwall follows five years of hard work and investment by the LEP, Cornwall Council and the Spaceport Cornwall team.
It means we can play a major part in realising the UK’s commercial spaceflight ambitions, while creating the jobs of tomorrow here in Cornwall. That’s an opportunity we must seize.
Mark Duddridge is chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership