Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall

The white and red underside of Cosmic Girl Launcher One, with four jet streams trailing behind, against a blue sky
Image from Virgin Orbit
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 5 June 2019

Very excited by the prospect of using LauncherOne to bring satellite launch to Britain, and Virgin Orbit have been working hard with our friends in Cornwall for a while to try and make that happen.

Richard Branson at Virgin Orbit
Image from Virgin Orbit

That project has taken a huge leap forward as the UK Space Agency (UKSA) has announced its aim to invest £7.8m into the development of Spaceport Cornwall, working towards a first launch from British soil in the early 2020s.

I’m very fond of Cornwall as I spent many holidays there as a child with a bucket and spade. We spent time in that beautiful part of the world when we broke the world record for the fastest Atlantic ship crossing. In 2013 we reunited all the crew and sailed from Plymouth to Fowey, after the vessel was restored by a Cornwall local. I have such wonderful memories of adventure in that part of the world and it’s lovely for a Virgin company to make it their home in Britain.

Satellites have never launched from Britain so it’s thrilling to be leading the way and it’s such wonderful news that will bring jobs and innovation to the UK.

Cosmic Girl flying with LauncherOne under its wing
Image from Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit will revolutionise launching small satellites with our “mobile launch pad,” a modified 747 named Cosmic Girl. It will carry LauncherOne to more than 30,000 feet before the rocket engages its thrusters and flies into orbit - travelling at 17,500mph, dropping off satellites and connecting the world. LauncherOne offers satellite customers an unparalleled level of control over when and where their spacecraft are deployed.

By bringing Virgin Orbit’s launch service from California to Cornwall (subject to US regulatory approval – but we’ve taken the first steps in that direction), we’re in a unique position to stimulate the space economy, strengthen the US-UK partnership, and inspire a whole new generation of space lovers.

It’s fantastic to see other partners just as excited about the potential of this project. Cornwall Council, who own the airport, have earmarked £12 million (subject to full council approval) and the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are providing a further half a million to upgrade airport infrastructure.

LauncherOne below the wing of Cosmic Girl
Image from Virgin Orbit

This investment is key to establishing Spaceport Cornwall as the UK’s only horizontal launch spaceport - as well as the first of its kind in Europe.

The team behind this project have had great vision and perseverance – including minister Chris Skidmore, MP Steve Double, Cornwall Council, the LEP, and Miles Carden and his team at Spaceport Cornwall.

We’re really excited to keep building on this work together and, on top of the hundreds of millions of pounds we’ve already put into developing and testing LauncherOne, we are investing £2.5m into the project for programme management, regulatory licensing and mission analysis. 

I’m so proud that Virgin Orbit is playing a role in bringing space launch back to Britain.