£7.35 million grant from UK Space Agency to support air-launch from Cornwall

Virgin Orbit's orbital launch subsidiary flying over Cornwall
Spaceport Cornwall
Head shot of Tania Steere.  She is smiling, with long, wavy blonde hair
by Tania Steere
7 November 2019

Virgin Orbit’s plans to launch small satellites from Spaceport Cornwall have been given a boost with an announcement of a £7.35 million funding grant from the UK Space Agency to support air-launches.

The funding will be used to develop launch operations support systems and manufacture them in the UK, to conduct mission planning, and to further ready the facility for satellite launches from Cornwall.

Virgin Orbit’s first spaceflight from Cornwall is planned for as soon as the fourth quarter of 2021 (subject to regulatory approvals). The launches will use Virgin Orbit’s innovative air launch system, LauncherOne, and could be the first ever orbital launches from the UK.

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said: “We’re tremendously excited to be supporting the UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council by bringing space launch to the UK. By establishing a strong local hub for our launch system, this joint project will boost UK participation in a fast-growing global space economy while also providing direct, ready, and responsive access to space for government missions. We very much look forward to furthering our ties with the cutting-edge satellite innovators across the UK and with local industry, who will be critical partners in fulfilling the full potential of this endeavor. We’re eager to set up a world-class launch facility at Spaceport Cornwall, bring domestic space launch to the UK, and launch the next generation of satellite developers in their quest to better understand our earth and our environment, connect human kind, serve national security, and explore our solar system.”

A render of a Virgin Orbit plane at Spaceport Cornwall
Image from Spaceport Cornwall

The funding from the UK Space Agency comes as part of a broader £20 million funding package for Cornwall Airport Newquay, announced by Science Minister Chris Skidmore, which is pending final approval by Cornwall Council later this month.

Minister Skidmore said: “We want the UK to be the first country in Europe to give its small satellite manufacturers a clear route from the factory to the spaceport. That’s why it’s so important that we are developing new infrastructure to allow aircraft to take off and deploy satellites, a key capability that the UK currently lacks. Today’s announcement will help the UK to harness the commercial opportunities offered by the global space industry and put the UK firmly on the map as Europe’s leading launch destination.”

Cornwall Councillor Geoff Brown, Portfolio Holder for Transport said; “The finalisation and commitment of the £7.35m UK Gov investment through the UK Space Agency is a major milestone. This, together with UKSA Horizontal Launch and LEP Growth Deal funds takes government investment to the Spaceport Cornwall project over £8m. This agreement also confirms Virgin Orbit’s commitment to Cornwall and the UK. It allows Cornwall Council to make a decision in November to invest with confidence that the Spaceport project will now go ahead without delay and head rapidly towards a historic launch in 2021. This launch will be the catalyst for local jobs, and allows Cornwall and the UKto lead on environmental launch, to grow an industry cluster that uses Space data applications to address climate change, and is an incredible opportunity to inspire the next generation to pursue a space or science career.”

Find out more about Virgin Orbit’s mission to revolutionise small satellite launching and connect the world.