Nov 18th, 2022 | Blog

Becoming the UK’s first Licensed Spaceport: the next step on the Road to Net Zero

When the project to develop Spaceport Cornwall was launched in 2014, we immediately knew that we could usher a new era of technological innovation and excellence for the United Kingdom. The prospect of opening up a small satellite launch market in the UK, and supporting the industry in harnessing the power of space to benefit life on Earth, was hugely exciting.

Not only was this development a milestone achievement for the UK, it offered incredible opportunities for the people of Cornwall; reimagining it as technological hub for all-things space and data – benefitting new business and inspiring the next generation to look skywards and dream of the possibilities that this new spaceport can offer them.

But with great achievement comes great responsibility. While the creation of Spaceport Cornwall has been a labour of love, we knew we had to counterbalance that labour and innovation with due care and attention of the surrounding environment.

Cornwall is known and celebrated for its natural beauty, and because of this, Spaceport Cornwall had to ensure that our launch was as technologically and environmentally-sound as possible, minimising any potential damage to the surrounding areas and the general population. We were, and are, dedicated to this – without a functioning, healthy planet, all of our technological achievements will be for naught.

Which is why we at Spaceport Cornwall are so proud to announce that we have been awarded our Spaceport Licence from the UK Civil Aviation Authority, demonstrating that we have met the statutory requirements for safety, security, environmental and other aspects to operate a functioning, world-standard spaceport. It also means that we have the infrastructure, equipment, and services to operate horizontal space launches. This licence will set a global benchmark for future Spaceports, something we feel very proud of. 

This achievement has been years in the making through the combined efforts of our incredible team and our equally brilliant delivery partners. By obtaining this licence, we are now one step closer to the launch date, and to making history.

Gaining our Spaceport Licence comes at the tail end of an extremely busy and successful year for Spaceport Cornwall. Not only have we been able to prove to governing bodies that our spaceport is safe, technologically sound and environmentally responsible, we have been able to open Spaceport Cornwall for business. The licensing process also resulted in a level of transparency not usually seen in the launch industry. We were able to commission a launch lifecycle analysis from the University of Exeter, which means we have a full understanding of our holistic impact across the supply chain, allowing everyone to transparently see our impact and where we can drive action to be Carbon Neutral by 2030. 

Our report was taken into consideration when the UK Civil Aviation Society publicly consulted on the Assessment of Environmental Effects for Spaceport Cornwall. 

In this assessment, which is specific to the impact of launch we, and Virgin Orbit, outlined the expected environmental effects and demonstrated the measures to offset emissions, with a focus on purchasing Woodland Carbon Credits initially, followed by electrification of operations, and a series of nature-based solutions across the next five years to reach carbon neutrality. But that is just the start… 

Satellites are fighting climate change, and they provide more than 50% of our climate change data. Satellites make heavy polluting industries more efficient, use unbiased imagery to hold Governments and businesses to account and keep people connected, when it really counts, like in civil uprisings. Our first launch has an amazing line-up of satellites that will support these activities, they are the true superstars. 

Though they are an integral part in our fight against climate change, satellite launch has an undeniable carbon impact. As a spaceport, we are responsible for any potential damage caused to the environment by a launch, a responsibility we take seriously. We believe in the power of innovation and technology, but not at any cost.  

From the outset we are able to decrease the impact, by using an existing airport instead of building a remote launch pad, and by using an existing launch system. 

However, we will not stop at that. Mitigation and offsetting are not enough. We need to continue to strive to decrease our impact and make positive change in our surrounding environment and the people that live in that environment, especially if we are to move beyond carbon neutrality and meet Net Zero targets.  

We’re not shy about our ambition – that is, to become the world’s most responsible launch site. That means environmentally and socially.  With our state-of-the-art facilities, incredible partners and a commitment to being part of cutting-edge missions for the benefit of humankind, we firmly believe that the realisation of that ambition is simply a matter of time.

We will get there, just as we got to the stage we are now – on the verge of an extraordinary event that will not only boost the local economy and the country’s economy as a whole, but show the world what can be achieved and what space launches and satellite tech can offer us all. 

Our Spaceport Licence allows us to carry out the UK’s first ever space launch.  But it does so much more than that, it holds us accountable to our Purpose of Space for Good. Delivering Earth-benefitting technology to space, in a transparent and responsible way, all whilst inspiring the next generation to think about their role in space. 

We will be releasing our ‘Road to Net Zero’ report imminently – and with Cosmic Girl sat on our apron, LauncherOne being prepped for launch, and game-changing satellites ready to go to their orbit, we cannot wait to set the global bar in for responsible launch, all from Cornwall.

Note: You can find out more about our Sustainability at Spaceport Cornwall here. A Sustainability Steering Group is being established to recommend, monitor and evaluate activities for Spaceport Cornwall.