Cornwall Receives Spaceport License

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued a license to Spaceport Cornwall in a major step toward the first orbital satellite launch from the United Kingdom by Virgin Orbit later this year.

“This is an historic moment as we licence the first ever spaceport in the UK. We’re proud to be playing our part in facilitating the UK’s space ambitions through assessing the safety, security and other requirements of these activities. This is another major milestone to enable this country to become a leading launch nation,” said CAA CEO Richard Moriarty.

The license allows the Cornwall Airport Newquay to host launches. But, Virgin Orbit can’t operate from the spaceport just yet. CAA said it is in the “very advanced stages with Virgin Orbit on its applications for launch and range licences, as well as the satellite operators, ahead of a proposed first UK launch.”

Virgin Orbit is scheduled to launch 8 small satellites using its LauncherOne rocket, which will be dropped over the ocean by the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. The flight was originally scheduled to take place during the summer, but it has been delayed as CAA works through licensing procedures.

“To be the first Spaceport in the UK with a license to operate is a historic moment. The regulatory environment created by the Civil Aviation Authority ensures that UK launch will set the global bar in terms of responsibility and transparency,” said Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall. “Cornwall is now ready to open up the use of space for good, and support the UK industry in harnessing the power of space to benefit life on Earth.”

CAA said it worked closely in the licensing process with the Marine Management Organisation, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

“The cosmic cornerstone is being laid for the UK’s first orbital space launch, with the UK Civil Aviation Authority granting Spaceport Cornwall the first ever spaceport license,” said Transport Secretary Mark Harper. “Virgin Orbit’s planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”

This will be Virgin Orbit’s sixth launch and the first to not originate from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

“Obtaining this license marks a point of distinction for Spaceport Cornwall, and is a key preparatory milestone for this first orbital launch from the UK,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said. “We appreciate the efforts of the British regulatory agencies with the support of the US Federal Aviation Administration in this first-time licensing process, as we strive in our respective roles to ensure a safe and successful mission in the coming weeks.”