The past nine months have been a pivotal time for the next era of space exploration in the UK, and Cornwall Space – the name for Cornwall’s Space Cluster – has been leading the way with significant advancements and developments within the sector. Gail Eastaugh, Director of AeroSpace Cornwall tracks the progress and looks towards the promising future of the industry.
2021 has been a key year in the progression of the UK space sector; from deep space communications to the passing of new laws, there have been significant milestones, coupled with incredible innovation, that have accelerated the commercialisation of the industry. Cornwall has undeniably been a key focal point along the way and as our ambitious Space Cluster accelerates growth in the space sector – building on Cornwall’s strength in these industries – so too does the excitement and anticipation of what’s to come in the next year.
We are on the cusp of a new technical revolution, based around existing space assets, and the success of this is in part down to the creation of a new Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. This has been created to drive the growth and prosperity of Cornwall, and the accelerated growth of the data and space sectors will play a key part in accelerating Cornwall’s economy over the next 10 years.
This LIS outlines how Cornwall is developing an internationally credible space cluster and how R&D programmes are supporting economic growth in data and space.
As we rapidly move forward, we’ve taken a moment to reflect on the key events and evolution across 2021 so far – tracking what this means to the region in particular, and the industry as a whole.
Virgin Orbit Launch
Virgin Orbit successfully completed two launches within the space of five months. The first being their inaugural commercial launch back in January 2021, with the company’s carrier aircraft, Cosmic Girl, taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. This was followed in June by the deployment of seven customer satellites into orbit on-board the company’s LauncherOne rocket.
The excitement is building as we edge ever closer to the first ever commercial launch on UK soil, which will take place at Spaceport Cornwall in 2022. Launch from Newquay will give a much needed boost to the local and national economy post-Coronavirus, with Spaceport Cornwall set to further strengthen the UK and Cornish industry by bringing 150 direct jobs by 2025.
MILO Ambassador Programme
We were thrilled to announce an all-new collaboration between AeroSpace Cornwall and the MILO Institute that will see us deliver the UK’s first ever MILO Ambassador programme. With support from Lockheed Martin, MILO aims to bring compelling, affordable space science missions to the world, and this exciting partnership will accelerate technology maturation across the Cornwall Space Cluster.
The established ecosystem, designed to mature new technologies and space science programmes, offers members of the Cornwall Space Cluster access to relevant expertise in satellite build, test, integration and operation.
We are working with Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd to deliver the MILO Ambassador programme, focusing initially on the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly region, then expanding across the UK and the rest of the world. We hope to use the insights gained to accelerate regional economic development and create a commercially viable model for the UK’s space sector to use to further develop the space economy in the UK.
Goonhilly’s GHY-6 Deep Space Antenna
Having been at the forefront of satellite communications for more than 50 years, Goonhilly Earth Station is set to play an instrumental role in the next generation of space exploration with its new GHY-6 antenna enabling deep space communications on pioneering missions to the moon and mars. The official opening of the GHY-6 was performed by Tim Peake, who was the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station.
GHY-6 is the world’s first commercially operational deep space antenna and is playing a key role in furthering and supporting deep space missions. This role has been cemented by Goonhilly’s recently announced long-term agreement with Intuitive Machines (IM) to support every stage of IM’s missions to the moon, from launch through to transit and to lunar operations.
Goonhilly AI Institute
Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd is also building an “Institute for Space Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning” together with a group of UK Universities, including partners at University of Oxford, University Manchester, University of Leeds and University of Hertfordshire.
The mathematics of digital signal processing, radio astronomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning are closely connected, and this consortia is using its cross-sectoral skills to apply algorithms developed in one field to solve problems in another.
Goonhilly has invested in a number of GPU- and FPGA-based supercomputers, which provide massive parallel processing capacity. Together with their Low Earth Orbit (LEO) tracking capability dedicated to downlinking Earth Observation data directly into their data centre, this provides them with the capability to derive new high-value data sets for various markets including agri-tech, coastal monitoring, traffic monitoring and flood warning.
The institute offers incubation space for companies to come and use the facilities at Goonhilly Earth Station, and the opportunity to work with the business and their partners alongside.
Truro & Penwith College – Cornwall Space and Aerospace Technology Training (CSATT)
Truro & Penwith College is building state-of-the-art space facilities that will rival the best in the UK. In collaboration with businesses and educators, CSATT is developing world-class training courses to help businesses and individuals reach new heights in support of the long-term success of the sector that is expected to add £1 billion to the Cornish economy.
The college’s specialist training courses will include higher-level apprenticeships, short courses and degrees that will support growth, boost employment and fill skills gaps for local businesses, while providing those working in the sector, and those wanting to enter the sector, with the skills needed to enjoy successful space and aerospace careers.
Kernow Sat 1
Following the G7 Summit that took place in Cornwall during June 2021, the UK Government has announced plans to fund the design and build of Kernow Sat 1 – a community satellite. Cornwall’s intention is that this G7 legacy project become a historic payload – the first satellite designed, manufactured and launched in Cornwall – with the intention of it forming part of Virgin Orbit’s first UK launch next year from Spaceport Cornwall.
The satellite will be on an earth science mission to monitor the ocean surrounding Cornwall and the local environment – helping to plan and protect. Once complete, Cornwall’s intention is that this payload will be one of the first to be processed at Cornwall Airport Newquay.
This innovative community approach to space will set a precedent for future missions, fostering collaboration across industry and bringing space closer to local communities – all while collecting key data to inform local environmental policies.
Centre of Spaceflight Technologies
Spaceport Cornwall’s ‘Centre for Space Technologies’ (CST), set to open ahead of the first launch, is a new and unique series of world-leading research, development and innovative infrastructure facilities, providing the specialist equipment required for the development, testing, integration and launch of space technologies and systems (satellites).
The knowledge gained during the R&D of the products and services delivered within the CST will be used to solve some of the UK’s most challenging issues, including climate change and improving environmental and social sustainability. This will, in turn, lead to further R&D activity in satellite hardware, software, testing and applications, accelerating the development of the space cluster in Cornwall.
The passing of Spaceflight regulations into law
Another big move forward in UK space exploration came on 29 July 2021, with the passing of spaceflight regulations into law. The legislation provides the framework to regulate the UK space industry and allows Spaceport Cornwall to apply for the necessary licenses in anticipation of the 2022 launch. Long-term, it unlocks a potential £4 billion in market opportunities over the next decade, creating thousands of jobs and benefiting communities across the UK.
The Future of Data and Space in Cornwall
By 2030, Cornwall will:
- Be a leader in the national space programme by exploiting the physical, digital and intellectual assets in Cornwall, and by using satellite data to overcome local and global challenges, such as the impact of climate change
- Be the UK’s primary data communications and satellite operations centre for Government, commercial and academic-led exploration and deep space missions – enhanced by the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
- Be globally recognised as a centre for horizontal launch services
- Have inspired and equipped the next generation of scientists, software and technology developers, engineers and entrepreneurs to engage with the Data and Space sectors, and develop products and services which create sustainable value for the economy.
Cornwall’s assets are nationally important and central to the UK national spaceflight programme. In a new era of exploration, some 50 years on from when Goonhilly was integral in distributing the images of the first Moon landing, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will focus on ‘exploration’ missions, with exploration being rooted throughout its culture and history. Through Spaceport Cornwall and the growing supply chain of upstream data communications and operations businesses, upper stage modifications and technology could allow “air launch” to support ‘beyond LEO’ orbital services, with missions to the moon and beyond.
The activity and advancements in Cornwall over the last few years have shown the strength of the UK’s industry and the power of collaboration. I believe the next year will be a historical one for the UK space industry. As Tim Peake said to me at the Goonhilly-6 opening, “If you really want to do something, and you have the right support around you, you can achieve unimaginable things.”