A CORNISH spaceport looks set for liftoff after officials signed an agreement allowing US companies to launch into space from UK soil.
The deal between the British and American governments brings plans for a Cornish spaceport at Newquay Airport a step closer.
Spaceport Cornwall will handle horizontal launches into low Earth orbit, while a new site in Scotland will take traditional vertical launches.
As well as satellite launches, flights from the site will be available to fee-paying passengers, who will be able to experience weightlessness.
Miles Carden, director of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “Today’s exciting news that the UK and US governments have signed a new technology safeguarding agreement, allows us to press ahead as US companies including Virgin Orbit can now operate from Spaceport Cornwall.
“This is amazing news for the LaunchUK programme and a key step on our very real target of delivering horizontal launch services with Virgin Orbit from 2022 in Cornwall.”
The deal signed yesterday paves the way for American companies to operate from spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland and to export space launch technology.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has said it plans for Spaceport Cornwall to be the base for up to eight launches a year, each carrying a number of small satellites into orbit.
The rockets will be carried aloft on a modified Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, and will be released over the Atlantic.
But the first test launch of the rocket system ended in failure last month.
Virgin Orbit said the mission over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California “terminated shortly into the flight”.
The company did not say what had gone wrong but confirmed that Cosmic Girl landed safely with its flight crew at the Mojave base.
Glenn Caplin, chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, which is investing £500,000 from the Government’s Local Growth Fund in Spaceport Cornwall, said: “This is excellent news for Cornwall’s space programme and means American space companies like Virgin Orbit can launch from British soil for the first time and be assured that their technologies will be protected.
“Our ongoing investment in Cornwall’s space sector at Newquay and Goonhilly means we are well positioned to play an important role in the global space economy.”
The UK Government has already awarded grants totalling nearly £40 million to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launch from UK spaceports and put in place the necessary regulation to enable launches to take place.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “This deal with the US takes us one step closer to seeing the first launch into space from British soil.
“This is a key moment for our commercial space industry, and I look forward to seeing companies from Scotland to Newquay benefiting, and the creation of highly skilled jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Karen Pierce, UK Ambassador to the United States, said: “This agreement marks an exciting new area for UK-US space collaboration and represents a significant step towards US companies launching from UK spaceports.
“The commercial space sector already represents hundreds of millions of dollars in trade between our two countries each year, as well as thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
“This new agreement will generate further growth and prosperity for both our countries.”
Cornwall Council has committed £12.1 million on infrastructure work at Cornwall Airport Newquay to create a base for horizontal launches.
Three planned spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland could contribute up to £1.4 billion to the UK economy if the wider spillover effects are taken into account.
In other news, Musk has claimed he’s sending three space tourists on a 10-day holiday to the ISS next year.
Video emerged in March of a SpaceX rocket exploding on take-off following a dramatic pressure failure.
And, a nearby golden asteroid could make everyone on Earth a billionaire – and Nasa has hired Elon Musk to visit it.
Are you excited for UK space trips? Let us know in the comments!