July 28, 2021

How Newquay Virgin Spaceport could benefit Cornwall businesses

In a hangar on the edge of Newquay Airport there currently lies a piece of technology which could help to change Cornwall’s fortunes in the future – LauncherOne.

This impressive rocket is the groundbreaking key component of Virgin Orbit’s horizontal launch satellite system which is set to take off from Spaceport Cornwall in around a year’s time.

With the LauncherOne rocket sitting in the hangar behind it a number of people from key businesses in Cornwall are finding out how they will be able to be involved in the evolving space sector which is set to have a new home in Cornwall.

Above the speakers is a large screen showing videos of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl aircraft releasing LauncherOne into azure skies during its recent test flights in the US.

Last week the rocket was wowing world leaders who were invited to find out more about Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit on their way to the G7 summit, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson reported to have been particularly interested in the project.

There has been a lot of talk about Spaceport Cornwall since it was first announced but the scheme is quickly becoming reality and it is destined to provide a boost to Cornish businesses.

Along with a number of firms which are already working in the space sector or relying on data that is gathered in space, there are also a number of other companies which are now finding that they will also be able to take advantage of the arrival of new space and tech firms which are coming to Cornwall.

For Stephen Eisele, vice president of business development at Virgin Orbit, using and developing new business opportunities in Cornwall was always a key part of the plan.

“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.”

And Stephen was keen to point out that a lot of the companies which will be using the Spaceport and data which comes from launches are already here.

“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.”

Stephen said that at present UK companies working in space had to send their products and services abroad so that they could be launched – by having a launch base in the UK, and in Cornwall, it will give companies much more control over how their skills are used.

When Virgin Orbit first considered using Cornwall as its launch site Stephen admits they were “pleasantly surprised by what we found” saying that when considering the supply chain needed for the spaceport a lot of what was required was already here.

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.”

This is where the real benefits of Spaceport Cornwall are expected to be realised for Cornwall – helping companies to increase their output and develop new skills and create new job opportunities in highly specialised areas which could provide well paid jobs for the future.

College and university bosses in Cornwall have been working with Spaceport Cornwall to see what skills and courses will be needed to help support the project and give young people the opportunity to work in the space sector.

These could range from direct involvement to ways in which the data gathered by satellites sent into space can be used – whether that is for environmental schemes and marine monitoring or agricultural purposes – some of which is already happening in Cornwall.

Stephen said: “I am over moon. It is exciting, Cornwall is going to be a real touch base for the world, it is the first time we have a mobile commercial launch system like we are offering coming to Spaceport Cornwall.

“This will be the first launch in the UK and we feel that the UK should be part of the space industry because of what is here already.”

Stephen admitted that for the wider public there might not be full appreciation for what Spaceport Cornwall could do for Cornwall, and even that the Spaceport could actually get off the ground.

But with less than a year to the first launch from Spaceport Cornwall he said: “We want people to grasp the vision. This is happening, this is real.”