Head of Spaceport, Melissa Thorpe

Dec 17th, 2021 | Blog

2021 wrapped by Head of Spaceport, Melissa Thorpe

From new Lockdowns, securing funding, greeting Heads of State at G7, and going live on BBC World News to 30 million people, this year has been full of ups and downs.

Merry Christmas!

What. A. Year.

From new Lockdowns, to becoming the Head of a Spaceport, securing the remaining funding we need to launch, breaking ground on our facilities, greeting Heads of State at G7, getting COVID, going live on BBC World News to 30 million people, this year has been full of ups and downs.

Highlights of 2021

  • January: Virgin Orbit goes to space for the first time ever!
  • February: We hire our amazing apprentice Imogen! Perseverance lands on Mars. We introduce our newest teammate Palores the Astrochough, designed by local students
  • March: We secure ERDF funding and the Centre for Space Technologies, we introduce our refreshed brand (thank you LEAP!) demolition work begins on our Spaceport development and Eden Project plant wildflowers for the National Wildflower collection on site. Dave hosts our first Education broadcast with over 1000 local students, streaming live with rocket scientists in California
  • April: BBC Countryfile films on site, highlighting how we can launch more sustainably
  • May: The winner of our poster competition is announced (congrats Jensen!). We release our space activity booklet to all schools in Cornwall. We host Space Command on-site. THE rocket arrives for G7
  • June: G7 G7 G7! We show Boris and other Heads of State what’s happening at Spaceport Cornwall HQ. We announce our second launch operator – Sierra Space – and Kernow Sat 1 funding. We host a supply chain business workshop with Virgin Orbit and break ground on the Centre for Space Technologies. Following G7, we move the rocket to a new home for public viewing. Then Virgin Orbit completes their 2nd successful launch in Mojave, with RAF pilot Stanny in the cockpit (A very busy month!)
  • July: We attend our first in-person conference, Space Comm. Sir Richard Branson and our friends at Virgin Galactic go to space! We throw open our doors to the public with our ‘Story of a Satellite’ exhibition, which hosts thousands of people and students over six weeks. D-Orbit UK signs contract with the ESA Boost! programme to establish a commercial UK Responsive Launch Service at Spaceport Cornwall
  • August: Our new merchandise line launches. Story of a Satellite features on BBC
  • September: We host new UKSA CEO Paul Bate, Civil Aviation Authority and Virgin Orbit on site, three University of Exeter GSI Masters interns deliver projects identifying proactive ways for Spaceport Cornwall to be the most sustainable launch location in the world
  • October: We complete and submit the UK’s first Spaceport licence application! We open the ‘Steam to Satellites’ exhibit at the Royal Cornwall Museum. It’s Women in Space week and we highlight the incredible role women have in our industry. We feature in The Guardian: ‘How Cornwall is winning the European Space Race
  • November: We provide formal evidence to the UK parliament on the National Space Strategy, Ross hosts Go Space Watch and Mel speaks at London’s Science Museum
  • December: Mel speaks at the WMN Business Awards about Good Space, our draft Sustainability Impact Report is completed and we host University of Exeter Business Students. The Aviation Centre building is completed, where satellites will be integrated into LauncherOne for the UK’s first historic launch. Our new website goes live (check it out!)

And our individual team highlights:

“The arrival of the rocket for G7 following all the coordination with shipping agents, truck drivers, STS, CAL, and finally Virgin Orbit to put it together. A logistical nightmare but extremely rewarding to watch people’s faces when they saw it over the coming months.”


“Mine’s pretty easy - applying for the UK’s first spaceport licence application!”


“Signing the MoU with Sierra Space to be our second confirmed launch partner and announcing it to the world’s press with them in attendance at G7.”


“Hosting 1000 students and 3000 general public at our ‘Story of a Satellite’ exhibition.”


“Moving the rocket around a hangar, by hand, to prepare for President Biden’s arrival.”


“My top moment of 2021 was joining Spaceport Cornwall and becoming a part of a wonderful team. I feel so welcome and I feel I am an important part of the team, which I have never felt like in past jobs.”


Watching VO launch for the first time in January, goosebumps and bringing my family to see the rocket on my daughter’s 6th birthday (dressed as a pirate!)


Safe to say it was a hectic ride, but we are very proud of our accomplishments and full of positivity for 2022. Launch is now on the horizon, with many exciting things planned, least of which is a big celebration of being the first Spaceport in the UK to launch to space!

Our commitment to Good Space is stronger than ever, with our Sustainability Impact Report and Action Plan due to be released in February (stay tuned!). Space does incredible things for our planet, however we need to get much better at how we get these technologies there in the first place. We are not perfect, but we want to do it better with your help, and in a transparent and honest way.

This is very much a personal mission for me. I have been subject to harassment and intimidation over the past few years, all because of the disconnect and misunderstandings the general public have about space. We can be in the space industry and be environmentalists. Many colleagues I know are. You only need to look at my background, the wilderness I grew up in, and what my parents did for a living to understand where my motivations come from. Climate Change is here and Cornwall will be part of the solution, not the problem. We will launch responsibly and challenge others to do the same.

Becoming the Head of Spaceport Cornwall this year has been challenging, exhausting and often frustrating – but I am so proud of myself and my team for what we have achieved, especially in a pandemic, with economic and political uncertainties.

If you caught any of my talks you will know we are purpose-driven, and that inspiring the next generation, including my own children, is the reason we get out of bed every morning. This is for you.

I would like to finish with a Galactic-sized thank you to all those that have supported us this year. From colleagues in the Council, who have really rallied around us, to space industry friends, the UK Space Agency, our Virgin family, to our agencies and contractors, to our families at home that keep us going. We may be a small team, doing a mighty task, but we are able to do so with the wider support you have all given us.

I’m going to end with some recommendations of my other favourites of 2021…

Bring on Launch ’22!

Happy Holidays,

Favourite Book: Sarah Cruddas ‘Look Up’.

Favourite Movie: Dune, but also really excited to watch (another) ‘Don’t Look Up’ – released Christmas Eve.

Favourite Team Saying: “Reallllly!???” And “This should be a reality TV show.”

Favourite Food: Our neighbours and friends at Canteen at the Orchard, and Da Bara for pastries!