July 28, 2021

Kernow Sat 1 will be first satellite launched into space by Virgin Orbit from Cornwall

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall in front of Launcher One from Virgin Orbit at Newquay Airport (Image: Virgin Orbit)

The first satellite to be launched into space from Newquay, Cornwall, will be Cornish, Virgin Orbit has vowed.

CubeSat: Kernow Sat 1 could be launched from the county within the next 12 to 18 months on an earth science  mission such as measuring ocean plastic pollution or mapping tree planting and deforestation or coastal erosion.

Speaking from the G7 international media centre at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth on the eve of the three-day summit, William Pomerantz, vice-president special projects with Virgin Orbit, said it planned to bring satellite launching capabilities to parts of the world where they are none.

Mr Pomerantz said Newquay and Cornwall were an obvious choice for the company because the UK already has a strong industry of small satellite manufacturing but had had to rely on its membership of the EU to launch its satellites out of Kourou in French Guyana.

“When you give that local opportunity to a local community it brings plenty of community, science and business benefits to the area. It helps inspires school children to go into tech, science and space industries and inspires decision-makers too, to  create bespoke applications that are suited for local needs.”

He added: “Kernow Sat could be one year from now. We have done our first Virgin Orbit launch test in California earlier this year and now we want to do the same in the UK and in Cornwall in particular.”

Launcher One from Virgin Orbit will stay at Newquay airport for a few months so local school children can caome and take a look (Image: Virgin Orbit)

Mr Pomerantz insisted that Kernow Sat 1 would be designed by scientists and researchers from universities in the Duchy, with input from local school children, students and businesses with ocean health and earth science a strong focus for the scientific data instruments fitted on board.

“Ocean plastic pollution or coastal erosion are issues that are dear to everyone in Cornwall. Everyone here is an environmentalist. It’s part of the fibre of the Cornish people. People are informed, passionate about these issues for reasons of the heart or for business reasons. It drives their pride, their creativity.”

He said the data would be held as an  exemplar for best practice for other parts of the UK, Europe and the  world, while fostering a space industry in Cornwall, around Newquay’s Aerohub and Goonhilly Earth Station on the Lizard.

Meanwhile a full scale Launcher, used by Virgin Orbit to send small satellites into orbit from under the wing of a customised Boeing 747, is in situ at Newquay Airport where it will stay in place for several months in a bid to encourage local schools to visit and be inspired.

The research will be undertaken by the University of Exeter which will be running a Think Tank with experts in the marine field to establish the exact data requirements to effectively research and implement activities surrounding the health of Cornwall’s coasts and associated economy.

Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One being fired from a Boeing 747 during tests in California (Image: Virgin Orbit)

The build will be undertaken in collaboration with Oregon State University’s Open Source CubeSat and KISPE Space, who will share expertise and knowledge with Spaceport Cornwall’s Outreach Team. The team will work alongside Truro and Penwith College, using their new Space Technology Training programme to build the Kernow Sat 1 in Cornwall.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, welcomed the news, saying: “We are thrilled that this payload could be part of the first launch from Spaceport Cornwall. Engaging with the community and protecting the environment through Earth observation are an integral part of Spaceport’s mission and we hope to create a framework for community launches, helping influence local policy through  key data collection.”

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