In some ways, Cornwall seems to me like Britain’s Florida – a peninsula that juts into the Gulf Stream, with water warm enough that they’ve got populations of palm trees and surfers. And, according to The New York Times, they’re responding to Brexit by building their own Cape Canaveral-style space launch facility, too:
One day in a year or two, a modified Boeing 747 is expected to lift off from the long runway at the region’s airport, head out over the Atlantic Ocean and soar into the stratosphere. There, a rocket will drop from below a wing, fire its engines and ferry a load of small satellites into orbit, while the plane returns to the airport.
After six years of planning and fund-raising, construction of a bare-bones spaceport, budgeted at about 22 million pounds ($28 million), is beginning this month at the airport in Newquay.
The anchor tenant is expected to be Virgin Orbit, a part of Richard Branson’s Virgin universe. Its selling point: Putting satellites into orbit via aircraft can be done faster and with less infrastructure than earthbound rockets. It plans to bring its 747 (called the Cosmic Girl) and other gear being tested in the Mojave Desert to Britain with the help of £7.35 million from the U.K. Space Agency.
The first — and, to date, only — British-made satellite-bearing rocket was launched from Woomera in Australia in 1971. That program, called Black Arrow, was scrapped after four launches for not being cost effective.
“You do have to pinch yourself that the U.K is within a few years of launching satellites,” said Doug Millard, space curator at the Science Museum in London. “That is something that never would have been considered not so long ago.”
The launch vehicles that Britain is trying to nurture would be suited for smaller satellites that operate in low-Earth orbit, around 800 miles up, compared with about 22,000 miles for telecommunications giants that sometimes cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Smaller satellites also have much shorter life spans than the larger ones, implying the need for more of them, and more launches. Virgin Orbit says it plans to charge $12 million to take a nearly 700-pound payload of satellites into space.
Still, Britain’s space entrepreneurs say having a launchpad near home might give them an edge.
”If we can get in a van and drive our spacecraft up to Scotland or Cornwall, the whole process becomes much more straightforward,” said Mr. Liddle, the satellite builder.