The U.K. Space Agency (UKSA) announced today that it will award £7.35 million ($9.5 million) in grant funding to Virgin Orbit U.K. Limited, the U.K. branch of Sir Richard Branson’s satellite launch company, to enable the horizontal launch of small satellites from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport Newquay. In addition to funds and support provided by Virgin Orbit, the U.K. Space Agency grant comes as part of a broader £20 million funding package for Cornwall Airport Newquay infrastructure announced by Science Minister Chris Skidmore, which is pending final approval by Cornwall Council later this month.


The funds will be used to develop launch operations support systems and manufacture them in the U.K. In addition, the funds will be used to conduct mission planning, and to further ready the facility for satellite launches from Cornwall, with the first spaceflight targeted for as soon as the fourth quarter of 2021, subject to U.S. and U.K. regulatory approvals. These launches will be conducted using Virgin Orbit’s innovative air launch system, LauncherOne, and could well be the first orbital launches ever conducted from the UK.


“We’re tremendously excited to be supporting the U.K. Space Agency and Cornwall Council by bringing space launch to the UK. By establishing a strong local hub for our launch system, this joint project will boost U.K. participation in a fast-growing global space economy while also providing direct, ready, and responsive access to space for government missions. We very much look forward to furthering our ties with the cutting-edge satellite innovators across the U.K. and with local industry, who will be critical partners in fulfilling the full potential of this endeavor. We’re eager to set up a world-class launch facility at Spaceport Cornwall, bring domestic space launch to the UK, and launch the next generation of satellite developers in their quest to better understand our earth and our environment, connect human kind, serve national security, and explore our solar system,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.


“We want the U.K. to be the first country in Europe to give its small satellite manufacturers a clear route from the factory to the spaceport. That’s why it’s so important that we are developing new infrastructure to allow aircraft to take off and deploy satellites, a key capability that the U.K. currently lacks. Today’s announcement will help the U.K. to harness the commercial opportunities offered by the global space industry and put the U.K. firmly on the map as Europe’s leading launch destination,” said Science Minister Chris Skidmore.


Cornwall Councilor Geoff Brown, Portfolio Holder for Transport said, “The finalization and commitment of the £7.35m U.K. Gov investment through the U.K. Space Agency is a major milestone. This, together with UKSA Horizontal Launch and LEP Growth Deal funds takes government investment to the Spaceport Cornwall project over £8m. This agreement also confirms Virgin Orbit’s commitment to Cornwall and the U.K. It allows Cornwall Council to make a decision in November to invest with confidence that the Spaceport project will now go ahead without delay and head rapidly towards a historic launch in 2021. This launch will be the catalyst for local jobs, and allows Cornwall and the U.K. to lead on environmental launch, to grow an industry cluster that uses Space data applications to address climate change, and is an incredible opportunity to inspire the next generation to pursue a space or science career.”


Virgin Orbit has already received U.S. government approval of a Technical Assistance Agreement allowing the launch service provider to begin discussions with U.K. manufacturers about the development of a UK-built transportable ground operating system — the trailers and related systems that support LauncherOne missions. This ground operating system would remain on site at Spaceport Cornwall, enabling the rapid-response launch of British small satellites to a broad range of low Earth orbits.



Will Pomerantz,

Kendall Russell,



Virgin Orbit provides dedicated, responsive, and affordable launch services for small satellites. Virgin Orbit is developing LauncherOne, a flexible launch service for commercial and government-built satellites. LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, and will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 carrier aircraft capable of operating from many locations in order to best serve each customer’s needs. Virgin Orbit’s systems are currently in an advanced stage of testing, with initial orbital launches expected soon. To learn more or to apply to join Virgin Orbit’s talented and growing team, visit



The U.K. Space Agency leads the UK’s efforts to explore and benefit from space, with responsibility for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme. It ensures Government investments in space science and technology deliver significant value to the U.K. economy and people’s lives. As set out in the Industrial Strategy, the U.K. Space Agency works with industry to develop new technologies, infrastructure and services, and to ensure the U.K. thrives in the commercial space age.

The U.K. Space Agency:

  • Supports the work of the U.K. space sector at home and abroad, maximising its benefit to the U.K.’s growing economy
  • Invests in science and exploration to increase our understanding of the universe and deliver practical benefits such as new technologies to life on Earth.
  • Inspires the next generation of U.K. scientists and engineers.
  • Provides a safe and supportive regulatory environment for the launch and operation of U.K. spacecraft, launch operators and U.K. spaceports.
  • Promotes global co-operation in space, through the U.K.’s membership of the European Space Agency and international partnerships.

The U.K. Space Agency is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.



Spaceport Cornwall is the UK’s horizontal launch site at Cornwall Airport Newquay, providing capable and safe access to space by 2021. Spaceport Cornwall will be one of the first places in the world to fully integrate civilian airline services with space launch, and support the entire U.K. satellite industry by providing a sovereign launch capability with Virgin Orbit and Goonhilly Earth Station. The project is funded by Cornwall Council and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership. For more information, please refer to