Rockets could be lifting off from the UK by 2020 as Spaceport Cornwall secured more than £22 million ($28 million) in funding.
The budding partnership also released a rendering of what the horizontal-launch spaceport facility may look like.
It is set to be built at Cornwall Airport Newquay and is being funded by Cornwall Council, Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency and a local enterprise partnership.
Virgin will use the Cornish site to carry small satellites into orbit aboard their LauncherOne rockets, which are ferried into the atmosphere by carrier plane.
The UK Space Agency will be putting forward £7.85 million ($10 million) in funding for the scheme, which will be joined by £12 million ($15 million) by Cornwall Council, subject to final approvals.
Further contributions are expected, including £0.5 million ($0.6 million) from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and £2.5 million ($3.2 million) from Virgin Orbit, the US-based space launch operator.
The collected support will enable Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit to develop the facilities needed to launch small satellites from the UK as soon as early 2020.
In the future, the spaceport could also see fee-paying space tourists take off on sub-orbital pleasure flights.
‘This announcement is the culmination of five years’ hard work and will be transformative for Cornwall,’ said Mark Duddridge, chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.
‘It puts us and the UK at the heart of the international satellite launch market, offering affordable access to space and will inspire a generation.’
Spaceport Cornwall’s development is expected will create around 150 new jobs and permit the UK to compete within the global market for deploying small satellites into Earth orbit — and industry expected to be worth £3.9 billion by 2030.
Virgin Orbit’s contribution to the development will allow the firm to operate its LauncherOne system from the spaceport.
LauncherOne is a two-stage, air-to-orbit rocket that can carry small satellite payloads weighing up to around 660 pounds (300 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit.
The rockets are carried up into the atmosphere on a carrier aircraft, dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’, a Boeing 747-400 that was converted from its former role as a passenger airliner in the Virgin Atlantic fleet.
A maiden launch of the Virgin Orbit system is expected to take place, launching from the US, sometime in late 2019.
Meanwhile, the UK Government is working with US authorities to establish the legal and technical frameworks needed to lift-off US space vehicles from launch sites on UK soil.
‘We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain — with a revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness,’ said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.
‘The Virgin Orbit team has now demonstrated every major assembly of our LauncherOne system and are within arm’s reach of bringing to the UK.’
Alongside the funds being directed towards the spaceport, the UK Space Agency is also granting around £7 million ($9 million) to University College London researchers to develop a ‘plasma analyser’ instrument to track space weather.
When launched into space, the analyser will give early warnings when the Sun ejects hazardous material and radiation into space that could potential harm astronauts, disrupt aircraft and satellite navigation and disrupt electrical infrastructure.
These alerts will give time for the protection of important assets such as power stations, and allow space operators like Virgin Orbit to adjust their launch plans accordingly.
These funding announcements come at the same time as the UK announces plans to establish a new National Space Council later this year.
Once formed, the body will provide the government with strategic guidance on all space-related issues and coordinate the UK’s space strategy.
The UK will remain in the European Space agency and is considering launching an investment programme to forge new international partnerships in the space sector.
‘As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, these announcements demonstrate the UK government’s commitment to space,’ said UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore.
‘Satellite technology is crucial to our daily lives, for observing the Earth and gathering vital climate change data, and the space industry is growing rapidly with 42,000 jobs across the country,’ he added.
‘Space is not only about pushing the boundaries of human knowledge,’ said Greg Clark, the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
‘It is a rapidly growing sector of our economy which plays a key role in our modern Industrial Strategy, promotes Global Britain and ensures our national security.’
‘These exciting plans from Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit to make horizontal launch a reality from Cornwall will help further our position as a leader in the New Space Age,’ he added.
In addition, Mr Clark said the government remains committed to the vertical launch spaceport also planned for development in Sutherland, in the Scottish Highlands.
‘This is making the UK the most attractive place in Europe for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond,’ Mr Clark concluded.
Categories: Mailonline Science
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