Advanced Television

Spaceport Cornwall updates status

August 16, 2022

Later this year, probably in October, a modified Virgin Orbit aircraft will take off from an updated Cornwall Airport, near Newquay and now named Spaceport Cornwall. The aircraft is expected to carry around 8 smallish satellites into space.

The activity will be the first-ever satellite mission handled by a ‘horizontal launcher’ from the UK, according to Spaceport Cornwall’s boss Melissa Thorpe. In particular, she is targeting military and intelligence agencies who as well as sending their satellites into space also look upon the facility – and Virgin Orbit – as supplying capacity for urgent replacements of satellites with extremely rapid access to space, even within 24-to-48 hours of need.

Thorpe says that the ‘Five Eyes’ cluster of national intelligence agencies (the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) know that the Spaceport’s rapid and responsive launch capacity would act as a deterrent to hostile nations contemplating damaging orbiting assets.

The first UK launch – from Virgin’s Launcher One – will carry two UK Ministry of Defence ‘Prometheus 2’ satellites. Another pair is expected to come from the US Naval Research Lab.

The Virgin Orbit jet will carry its rocket-propelled cargoes to 35,000 ft and detach from beneath its Port wing the rocket+satellites at some 36,000 ft. After a 5-second delay (which allows the aircraft to clear the area) the rocket’s engine will fire up and boost its speed to 8,000 mph and depending on the mission deploy the satellites at between 500 kms and 1200 kms altitude.

Thorpe is not alone in pushing her task. There are at least another six spaceports being planned for various locations in the UK, and Thorpe admits that it means there is now very real competition between locations.

Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit says that it will carry out four launches this year. It had previously planned for six.

Virgin Orbit reported a net loss for its Q2 of $33.3 million. Its revenue side of the column, of about $12 million per launch, will be recognised when the launches take place.

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