UK Space Agency Selects Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit to Bring Horizontal Space Launch to the UK

Cornwall, United Kingdom — 4 June 2019 — For a while now, we’ve been working with our friends in Cornwall on the prospect of using LauncherOne to bring launch back to Britain. Today, that project took a massive step forward, as the U.K. Space Agency announced it aims to invest £7.8m (~$10 million) into the development of Spaceport Cornwall as a key operating hub for horizontal launch system, working towards a first launch from British soil in the early 2020’s.

This deal is a win for all parties, and most especially for fans of space living and working in the UK. The space agency and supporters throughout government are eager to broaden the UK’s established leadership in satellite manufacturing and operations by creating a domestic capability to launch satellites into Earth orbit — something that has never happened from the British Isles.  By bringing our launch service from California to Cornwall, we’re in unique position to stimulate the space economy, strengthen the US-UK partnership, and inspire a whole new generation of boffins and space lovers.

And of course, this is a win for fans of Virgin. While it’s true that our rockets are Made in the USA, obviously the Virgin Group has incredible heritage in the UK, and we’re thrilled to have an excuse to go and visit our brother and sister companies more often. It’s also nice to know that if our launch customers ever need to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar, we’ve got tens of thousands of award-winning, customer-service-obsessed Virgin teammates there to help out!

An additional £12 million (~$15 million) has been earmarked for the project by airport owners Cornwall Council, subject to full council approval, with the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) providing a further £500,000 (~$650,000) to upgrade airport infrastructure. This package of investment is key to establishing Spaceport Cornwall as the U.K.’s only horizontal launch spaceport — as well as the first of its kind in Europe.

None of this could have happened with some key leadership from Minister Chris Skidmore (Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation), MP Steve Double, the Cornwall Council, the LEP, and of course, Miles Carden and his team at Spaceport Cornwall. Throughout the process, we’ve been thrilled by their vision, creativity, and perseverance, and we look forward to building on that strong foundation.

To take this exciting step forward, UKSA is leveraging our extensive private investment: on top of the hundreds of millions of pounds we’ve already put into developing and testing LauncherOne, we are also contributing up to a further £2.5 million ($3.1 million) to the project for program management, regulatory licensing and mission analysis.

Thanks to our “mobile launch pad,” a modified 747 dubbed Cosmic Girl, LauncherOne offers satellite customers an unparalleled level of control over when and where their spacecraft are deployed. We’ve put a lot of creativity and effort in to make our launch system as flexible and responsive as any launch system ever created, allowing us to bring the launch vehicle and all of its supporting infrastructure to any location our customers need. Expanding to an additional launch site in the U.K. enhances the agility and flexibility of our dedicated smallsat launch service even further.

In the words of Dan Hart, our President and CEO: “We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain – with a revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness. The Virgin Orbit team has now demonstrated every major assembly of our LauncherOne system and are within arm’s reach of bringing to the UK. We’re thankful for the leadership of Minister Skidmore, MP Steve Double, Cornwall Council, the LEP and the UK Space Agency in making this partnership a reality.”