Spaceport Cornwall plans get £12m boost amid XR protest

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne takes off from a 747 aircraft. (Virgin Orbit)

Published by the BBC, 26 November 2022

Plans to launch satellites from aircraft got a major lift after £12m of funding was approved by a local council.

The cash is a key part of getting the Virgin Orbit satellite launch system off the ground, as part of project Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay Airport.

Cornwall Council agreed on Tuesday for another £10.3m to go to the project.

Critics and Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters claim the plans go against “climate emergency” declarations.

This latest cash means the Virgin Orbit jet – a modified Boeing 747 – is closer to operating out of Newquay in 2021.

Protesters from Extinction Rebellion gathered in the council chamber public gallery

A vote of 66 to 34, with one abstention, approved the additional cash, bringing the authority’s total funding to £12.1m.

The council’s cabinet had already allocated £1.8m for the project, while £500,000 will come from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Fund.

Other funding includes £7.85m from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m from Virgin Orbit.

Critics and protesters from Extinction Rebellion dressed in costumes were vocal during the meeting.

They argued that the project meant Cornwall Council was abandoning its declaration in January of a climate emergency.

Critics also threw paper aeroplanes from the gallery, shouting “shame on you” at councillors as the debating chamber was cleared because of chants after the money was approved.

‘Leading spaceflight role’

Spaceport Cornwall aims to create a horizontal launch site at Newquay to get satellites into orbit.

Rockets carrying satellites would be attached to the 747 and fired into orbit while the plane was airborne.

Claire Barcham, from the UK Space Agency, previously said the spaceport would “help Cornwall to take a leading role in the UK’s emerging spaceflight sector”.

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