The billionaire was blasted up 53 miles to the edge of space last week on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane. Sir Richard returned safely to Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert just over an hour later, dubbing the trip the “experience of a lifetime”. But it is the UK that he has selected as his “European hub” to send small satellites into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) through his Virgin Orbit brand.
As Sir Richard’s “key delivery partner,” Spaceport Cornwall could host the first launches as early as 2022 – creating up to 350 jobs and adding up to £200million Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy
Stephen Eisele, vice president of business development at Virgin Orbit, says using and developing new business opportunities in Cornwall was always a key part of the plan.
He told Cornwall Live: “It’s a big part of who we are here, it is not about us providing a launch service, it is about providing a space ecosystem and provide sustainable access to space.
“We want to help develop new opportunities in Cornwall, that includes launch but having satellites and downstream applications, software, app making, all that – and a lot of that will result from the data that comes from satellites in space. It is exciting.
“The UK has an incredible space industry, you have so many factors in place, universities working on this, work on STEM subjects, manufacturing, it’s all here.
“The one thing you are missing is the launch, we will be doing that, but we are just one piece of that wider picture. When you have launch you will have complete access to space.”
When Virgin Orbit first considered using Cornwall as its launch site Mr Eisele said they were “pleasantly surprised by what we found”.
He explained that much of the supply chain needed for the spaceport was already there.
He said: “If we bring the rocket over and then find we need a component we don’t want to have to wait to get it from the US. But we have found a company here which can make these components – they didn’t before, but they have the capability to do so.
“There are many different examples like that – how we can use existing firms and companies which will help to supply the space sector. They might not traditionally be considered to be space companies, but they can be with just some slight changes.”
College and university bosses in Cornwall have already been working with the spaceport to map out ways they can support the project as well.
Spaceports have traditionally been used to launch spacecraft into orbit by blasting huge heavy-lift vehicles off launch pads vertically.
But Cornwall Airport provides a unique approach – allowing a modified Boeing 747 to cruise to 30,000 feet before the rocket is blasted in what is known as an air launch.
This can then deploy the payload – which plans to hold small satellites – into LEO.
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But Sir Richard is also said to be looking at the possibility of bringing space tourism to the UK.
Speaking to the i in February, he said: “Its location works really well allowing us to take off over the sea, and the support from the likes of Cornwall Council and Spaceport has been tremendous.”
Work has already started on a £2million Aviation Centre which will play a crucial role when future space missions take off from Spaceport Cornwall.
It will play a part in Spaceport Cornwall’s Centre for Space Technologies (CST), a £5.8million development that includes a satellite integration and mission operations facility.
The Centre for Space Technologies will enable satellites to be integrated into rockets and will bring UK satellite companies, academia and other space businesses together in one place to collaborate.
This Article firstly Publish on www.express.co.uk