Space, the final frontier: Cornwall prepares to drekkly go where no man (or woman) has gone before

Posted By on 27th January 2022

By Graham Smith

Cornwall could be in a position to launch a satellite into space by the time of the Queen’s Jubilee in early June, councillors heard today.

A meeting of the Newquay Airport Consultative Forum heard that the only potential obstacle is if the government delays granting a space operator’s licence.  Spaceport director Melissa Thorpe said she hoped the licence issue would be resolved in April.

Among the details to be included in that licence is an environmental impact assessment, and plans to mitigate and offset the huge carbon emissions associated with spaceflight.  Ms Thorpe said public consultation about the licence proposals would also start shortly.

The climate impacts of burning highly-polluting aviation fuel was a particularly controversial element of Cornwall Council's planning application in 2019.  The argument will now be heard again during the licensing process.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit system has now completed three successful launches.

Virgin’s engineering team will start to arrive in Cornwall soon to prepare for the launch of Kernow Sat-1, a tiny cube-shaped satellite which will be assembled by students at Truro and Penwith College.

The satellite is an “off-the-peg” self-assembly kit manufactured by Oregon State University, USA.  The Kernow Sat-1 is intended to monitor Cornwall’s marine environment, although details of precisely how it will do this have yet to be revealed.

So far there is still no sign of the 8,000 spaceport jobs promised by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership when it lobbied for the project in 2018.  In 2019 Cornwall Council promised the spaceport would “immediately” create 150 jobs.

In fact, the spaceport has so far created only five jobs.  Ms Thorpe said none of the five spaceport staff had been affected by the current round of Cornwall Council redundancies.  “There is a recognition that this is going to be historic for Cornwall,” she said.

“There is an intention to launch in part as a celebration of the Jubilee, but it is also Goonhilly’s 60th birthday and so we have an opportunity to really put Cornwall’s space industry on the map.”

Part of the programme is to enthuse Cornwall’s younger generation, with an event at the Eden Project on Saturday week (5th February.)

The “space buildings” at Newquay Airport, including a special ultra-clean hangar for the LauncherOne rocket and satellite, are nearly complete.  Ms Thorpe did not think that any roads would have to be closed during the launch, although there might be a short traffic delay – possibly at Spitfire corner at the edge of the airfield – during the 30 minutes that Mr Branson’s Cosmic Girl jumbo jet takes off.

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