Cornwall Council’s Cabinet members voted yesterday by six to four to recommend to councillors that the Council invests up to £12 million in developing the Spaceport Cornwall Programme.

The ultimate decision on whether to invest Council money in the scheme will now fall to a meeting of the full Council in November.

Should that be approved, the money would be used to develop facilities and operational capabilities at Cornwall Airport Newquay that would enable plans by satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to send small satellites into space from Spaceport Cornwall using a modified Boeing 747.

The plane carries a rocket under its wing and drops it at high altitude, over the Atlantic, for onward travel into space, where its satellite payload is deployed into low earth orbit.  The launch vehicle then returns to the airport and is able to be reused repeatedly.

Subject to the funding being agreed, there is expected to be one launch in 2021, with up to no more than eight a year projected by 2025.

Funding of £7.85 million for the project has already been announced for the project from the UK Space Agency.  A contribution of £500k will come from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.  US launch operator Virgin Orbit, will be investing an additional £2.5 million.

“This was a bold and important decision by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet”

Members heard that Spaceport Cornwall could create 150 jobs and enable the UK to compete for a share of the global market for launching small satellites worth £3.9 billion to 2030.

An independent scientific study by a leading energy and environment specialist at the University of Exeter has said that the proposed horizontal launch Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay is not expected to impact significantly on Cornwall’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and efforts in combatting climate change.

Geoff Brown, Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for transport, said: “It’s important to emphasise that what is being proposed in Cornwall are horizontal launches of satellites – not vertical launches or space tourism.

“Leading the way in satellite-based technology can help us worldwide by allowing us to collect data and explore the impacts of climate change from space. This information has global benefits in helping to manage the earth’s resources more wisely. It will also help existing industries become more efficient as we all work together, as we must, to reduce emissions overall and battle against climate change.”

LEP chair, Mark Duddridge, added: “This was a bold and important decision by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet and an important step towards creating the conditions for the space sector to flourish in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

“The LEP is already investing £8.4 million to upgrade Goonhilly Earth Station for deep space communications, which has helped to attract £25 million of additional private investment. We expect Spaceport Cornwall to have a similar catalytic effect, creating high quality jobs in a fast-growing sector of the economy.”