Reassurances have been given that launches from the proposed Spaceport at Newquay are "not expected to impact significantly" on greenhouse gas emissions in the county.

In June the government approved Cornwall Airport Newquay for horizontal launches, but this led to fears in some quarters over the impact this could have on the county's efforts to combat the climate emergency.

However, according to an independent scientific study by an energy and environment specialist at the University of Exeter, total annual emissions from Spaceport Cornwall would be between 0.04 per cent and 0.1 per cent of Cornwall’s total carbon footprint, which it described as "relatively low" in comparison to overall emissions.

The Spaceport Cornwall Carbon Impact Assessment was commissioned by airport owners Cornwall Council to inform plans to offset any carbon impact from the Spaceport, the following the council's agreement to make the county net zero carbon by 2030.

This includes £50,000 for planting trees as part of a proposed Forest for Cornwall.

The research looked at projected horizontal satellite launch activity between 2021 and 2030 and calculated the likely greenhouse gas emissions per year.

There is expected to be one launch in year one, with up to no more than eight a year projected by 2025.

Horizontal launches use a modified airliner to a carry a rocket to launch altitude, rather than traditional vertical-launch rockets. The launch vehicle then returns to the airport and is able to be reused repeatedly.

The council said them aim was to ensure that any carbon emissions from the Spaceport are more than offset. Satellite launch operators will be required to meet the carbon costs of operations through their launch fees.

The study was conducted by Dr Xiaoyu Yan, senior lecturer in energy and environment at the University of Exeter and part of its Environment and Sustainability Institute team based at Penryn in Cornwall.

Describing the report as "rigorous", Dr Yan said: "The magnitude of these emissions is relatively low compared with total CO2 emissions in Cornwall.

"Overall, the proposed Spaceport Cornwall is not expected to impact significantly on Cornwall’s total greenhouse gas emissions and efforts in combatting climate change.”

Geoff Brown, Cornwall Council cabinet portfolio holder for transport said: ““It’s important to emphasise that what is being proposed in Cornwall are horizontal launches of satellites – not vertical launches or space tourism.

"Leading the way in satellite based technology can help us worldwide by allowing us to collect data and explore the impacts of climate change from space.

"This information has global benefits in helping to manage the earth’s resources more wisely."

The government aims to grow the UK’s global market share of the space sector to ten per cent by 2030.

In June this year it pledged £7.85 million in funding to support horizontal launch from Spaceport Cornwall, subject to business case approval.

Cornwall Council said the first phase of Spaceport Cornwall was expected to create 150 jobs and generate £200 million for the Cornish economy.

The Report

The University of Exeter study looked at plans by satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to send small satellites into space from Spaceport Cornwall using a Boeing 747.

The plane carries a rocket under its wing and drops it at high altitude, over the Atlantic, for onward travel into space, where its satellite payload is deployed into earth orbit.

Dr Yan calculated both the direct emissions from launch activity in Cornwall and the effect of greenhouse gases at high altitude, where climate impacts can be amplified.

The report calculates that carbon emissions in the first year of Spaceport Cornwall’s operation would amount to 1,666 tonnes of CO2. This is equivalent to 0.04 per cent of Cornwall’s total carbon footprint of four million tonnes of CO2.

From 2025-30, when there would be up to eight launches a year, annual emissions would be 4,239 tonnes, or 0.1 per cent of Cornwall’s total carbon footprint.

By comparison, Cornish households account for 22 per cent of Cornwall’s total CO2 emissions, or 878,000 tonnes. Road transport is also 22 per cent, at 880,564 tonnes, while agriculture accounts for 19 per cent, or 762,225 tonnes of CO2 per year. Aviation accounts for 1.5 per cent of total emissions in Cornwall.

  • This report is based on 2016 figures, which the council said were the latest available.