Cornwall, in the UK, is known for it’s peak summer temperatures for ‘stay-cationer’ Brits, but it’s place on the map could soon be further strengthened by taking tourists into space; In plans announced by the UK Space Agency today, sub-orbital flights are set to begin from a base on a site in Newquay by the early 2020’s.

Commercial space tourism has long been discussed, since the moves to be first the first company to take tourists into space by Elon Musk’s SpaceX program, launched in 2002. Since then competitors including Boeing Space and entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galatic have entered the race, but today marked a landslide day as the UK Space Agency announced Britain would be hosting Europe’s first ever spaceport with a further one set to open in the Scottish Highlands in 2030.

The Spaceport will be home to the Virgin Galatic program, aiming to take fee-paying customers into sub-orbital flight to experience the effects of 0G (Zero Gravity) and see the world from afar. So how does Sub-Orbital flight work?

Suborbital Flight - Travel Radar - Aviation News
(Above) Diagram depicting the process of Sub-Orbital flight. Image: NASA

Virgin Galatic, launched in 2004, is an example of a company using the sub-orbital flight method. This method involves a larger ‘mothership’ which cradles a smaller ‘Daughter Ship’. The Mothership launches from a standard horizontal runway, climbing to an altitude of 40,000ft. At this altitude, the atmosphere is in optimum condition for the ignition of the daughter-ship’s rocket propulsion engines, which it ignites before separating from the mothership; Using it’s own propulsion, the daughter-ship then enters temporary sub-orbit of the Earth at an altitude of around 338,000ft (300,000ft higher than standard commercial air traffic!) allowing approximately 7 minutes of zero-gravity conditions inside the craft. The daughter-ship can then pitch down and reignite it’s engines pulling around 4G (4x the force of gravity we feel on Earth) before stabilising a glide back to the runway. The total distance travelled is around 100km and gives around a 30-60 minute flight for up to 6 passengers and 2 crew members.

Virgin Galatic Mothership - Travel Radar - Aviation News
(Above) Virgin Galatic’s SpaceShip 2 daughter-ship can be seen being carried by mothership Whiteknight 2. Image: Virgin Group

The new Spaceport in Cornwall is set to become the second hub of Virgin Galatic, based at Spaceport America in New Mexico (USA) but also the hub of Virgin Orbit – An aerial satellite launch platform. Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400 registered G-VWOW, was purchased by Virgin Orbit in 2017, from Virgin Group company, Virgin Atlantic. A former passenger aircraft, ‘Cosmic Girl’ is the testbed of the company’s LauncherOne system aiming to launch satellites and other payloads into space. Following an agreement signed by company chairman Richard Branson, Virgin Orbit CEO, Dan Hart, said: “We are very proud to play a role in bringing space launch back to Britain – with a revolutionary new level of flexibility and responsiveness.”

Virgin Orbit - Travel Radar - Aviation News
(Above) A CGI mockup of Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ based at new Spaceport in Cornwall

The UK Government is said to be working alongside the United States to establish the necessary technical and legal safeguards for commercial space tourism launches with Andrew Kuh from the UK Space Agency saying: “”The Space Industry Act 2018 has already put in place the legal framework.” and that he hoped “to [soon] have the right regulations in place so we can launch from Britain.”

First Astronaut from the UK to conduct a ESA (European Space Agency) mission to the ISS (International Space Station), Major Tim Peake, welcomed the announcement stating he was extremely happy “for Britain to be the first spaceport in Europe to be able to offer that service because we have the legislation in place, because we’ve sorted out our infrastructure” will be “huge” for the country. He also added that he believed space travel was not only for the rich, and provided an exciting opportunity for all: “It’s a very exciting time right now. Space tourism can come under some criticism as a sport for the rich but that’s how a lot of things start, that’s how aviation started.”

The UK Space Agency has pledged £7.85million for the project, with Cornwall Council offering up to £12million of funding for the project. Speaking at full council, Leader Julian German said: “Cornwall is the birthplace of innovation and technology and space is a key part of a 21st century economy.” and “with assets like Spaceport Cornwall, world-class mission control facilities at Goonhilly Earth Station and superb digital connectivity, Cornwall can play a vital role in the growth of the global space economy.”

Cornwall Spaceport Development - Travel Radar - Aviation News
(Above) The proposed development of Newquay Airport to become Cornwall Spaceport

With approval of legislation pending, Travel Radar Media are keen to track the progress of Cornwall Spaceport and the push for Space Tourism to ignite. Would you book a ‘Space Tourism Experience’? What are your thoughts on the economic and social gains of space travel and tourism? Get in touch!