As Cornwall prepares to make history tomorrow with the first ever space launch from UK soil, the story of how Cornwall Airport Newquay has become a key player in its success has been detailed.

The airport has spoken in detail about its role, and what has led up to this moment in time, becoming the hub for Spaceport Cornwall and partnering with Virgin Orbit.

Now, after years in the planning, the eyes of the world will be on – and in – Newquay, when the first ever horizontal rocket launch from the UK is scheduled to take place.

READ MORE: How to watch first ever Cornwall space launch from your own home

The perfect location. The perfect launchpad.

A Spaceport transformation requires two things: the right facilities and legislation. Cornwall Airport Newquay now meets those needs.

As a commercially regulated aerodrome, it already had many of the relevant facilities and infrastructure in place: a 2,744 metre by 45 metre long runway with surveillance systems, and a secure perimeter to allow for safe horizontal satellite launches, navigation aids, fuel storage and runway lighting.

There were minimal infrastructure changes needed to make the site fully operational for space activity.

Its location can also offer uncongested airspace and low residential density compared to many other airports, to help make it “the worlds responsible launch” site.

It also had direct access to the Atlantic Ocean and segregated airspace, as well as close proximity to world-leading satellite communications provider Goonhilly Earth Station, 25 miles south on the Lizard Peninsula.

Ian Jones, CEO of Goonhilly Earth Station, said: “We’re on a peninsular, surrounded by the ocean, with the ability to get into, and communicate, with space.

Falmouth Packet: The LauncherOne team in front of the rocketThe LauncherOne team in front of the rocket (Image: Spaceport Cornwall)

“It's like living on our own little spaceship here. It’s also the sort of environment that makes our services exportable to the rest of the world.

“Like we exported mining over 200 years ago, we’re now exporting highly effective communications and that is the way forward.”

A rocket fuelled metamorphosis…

The airport’s transformation from solely a regional passenger airport in to the UK's first licensed Space and Air port was “no easy feat”, according to those behind it.

There were some key operational measures and procedures needed to get the project off the ground and into space – the most challenging and integral being legislation and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licensing.

The team were involved in multiple aspects of the licensing process, including preparations for the upcoming launch, providing specialist ground servicing equipment, handling the modified Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrying the equipment for launch preparations, and offloading the Launcher One rocket when it arrived from the United States.

Cornwall Airport Newquay has now received the UK CAA’s approval, and on November 16, 2022 it became the UK’s very first airport to hold a Spaceport licence.

Falmouth Packet: Managing director of Cornwall Airport Newquay, Sam O’DwyerManaging director of Cornwall Airport Newquay, Sam O’Dwyer (Image: Cornwall Airport Newquay)

Speaking about the transformation, managing director of Cornwall Airport Newquay, Sam O’Dwyer, said: “We are incredibly proud to be involved in this innovative project to enable space launch from Cornwall Airport Newquay with Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit.

“The team effort that has gone into developing a fully licensed Spaceport facility, which will deliver safe and secure space operations for the UK’s first ever space launch, has been simply inspiring and I’d like to say a massive well done to my team.”

Delivering twice as much

Cornwall Airport Newquay says the aerodrome will continue to provide commercial flights, with the Spaceport facilities running alongside a busy summer airport schedule.

In 2023 it will flight to 21 destinations, working with ten airlines.

It has also kept much of the services in-house, with training given to Air Traffic Controllers, the Rescue and Fire Fighting Service supporting Spaceport activities in preparation for the arrival of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl and Californian colleagues, and various Cornish teams involved in meeting CAA licensing requirements and developed the Launch Day Airspace Plan.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, added: “Working with our partners at Cornwall Airport Newquay is key to the success of this mission. The collaborative spirit between our teams and the sharing of expertise will result in history being made, and we couldn't be more proud!”

Falmouth Packet: Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport CornwallMelissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall (Image: Spaceport Cornwall)

Looking to the future – what happens once we’ve claimed our place in space?

Working in tandem with Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit, it’s hoped that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Space Enterprise Zone will lead the way, helping to overcome challenges such as the impact of climate change.

The ambition is to have contributed to an additional £1 billion of economic value for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly through increased productivity, jobs, and turnover by 2030.

Valued at £16.5 billion, the space sector already supports 47,000 jobs and it’s unlikely to stop there - from inspiring young people to join a new industry, to tackling the digital skills gap and attracting further investment.

All eyes are on a new chapter in Cornwall Airport Newquay’s 88 years of operations and the Duchy being the home of the nation’s first Spaceport.