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World Space Week

As part of World Space Week, LEP Board member Lucy Edge looks at how a Spaceport in Cornwall can boost our economy and inspire the younger generation.

The plan to have a Spaceport in Cornwall is a very exciting prospect. It will allow Cornwall to be part of the UK and world-wide space economy with the ability to launch satellites from UK soil and compete as a go-to destination for satellite companies worldwide.  It can also be a catalyst for Cornish companies to help solve some of the world’s trickiest problems, using space technology. 

There is no doubt it will help drive economic growth in one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, not only in Cornwall but across the country, and will unlock hundreds of highly-skilled jobs in the region – a subject close to my heart as a board member of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP.

Figures estimate that a Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay could generate around 480 new jobs and £25million in value added to the local economy by 2028, and the LEP’s own Space Action Plan outlines even greater potential for the sector by 2030, which is why space is one of our 10 Opportunities for economic growth.

It is also interesting to know that space technology is already contributing to the local economy.  For instance, Goonhilly Earth Station, which provides spacecraft tracking and monitoring services to many of the world’s largest satellite operators, earlier this year secured £24 million private investment on the back of an £8.4m investment from the LEP to create a deep space communications ability. This investment puts Goonhilly in a position to track future deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.

Avanti, a high throughput satcomms company, runs its fleet of satellites from Goonhilly.  Satellite services support more than £250 billion of GDP in the wider UK economy and, partly due to Cornwall’s excellent high-speed connectivity, some of that opportunity exists right here in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  We have a number of start-ups using space tech and space data to power their service offering. This includes companies like Paddlelogger which using GPS data to provide tracking on the water, and 3Xe which is harnessing geographical information systems (GIS) data to provide a range of app services to its clients.  

Britain already produces around 44% of the world’s small satellites, one of the fastest growing areas of the global satellite industry, but has lacked the means to get them into space.

That global satellite launch market is predicted to be worth an estimated £10 billion over the next decade and Spaceport Cornwall will allow Cornwall and the UK to have a bigger share as more and more satellites are launched to provide a huge array of services, from communications and earth observation to global navigation systems.

Cornwall’s ambitions focus on the horizontal (rather than vertical) launch market, as a safe and cost-effective way of accessing space.

Horizontal launch systems use modified aircraft to carry rockets to a very high altitude where they are released to make their way into Earth orbit and are ideal for small satellites.

Cornwall Newquay Airport is ideally located for this activity because of its relatively free airspace, long runway and geographical position which makes it ideal for launching small satellites that require low earth orbit polar trajectories.  That’s why Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch company, has selected Spaceport Cornwall as an ideal location to operate and deliver one of the first launches of its LauncherOne system outside of its US home.

This summer Virgin Orbit signed a partnering agreement with Cornwall Council and work is now underway to develop a detailed plan for satellite launches from Newquay by 2020. The signing of this agreement was the culmination of over a year’s work by a team led and funded by the LEP, in partnership with Cornwall Council.

Cornwall’s space ambitions are about growing a new industry that creates sustainable, well-paid jobs. A Spaceport doesn’t just mean launching a satellite, or providing a tech-based service or solution, it can mean a career. A young person can study locally and then stay in Cornwall for the rest of their career.
We need to inspire our younger generation and show them the careers options that come with studying science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM); skills that are currently in short supply in the UK.
A State of Engineering Study this year by Engineering UK says there is an increase in the uptake of STEM subjects, which is positive news, but the UK still faces a significant skills shortfall and just 28% of young people aged 11 to 14 surveyed had taken part in a STEM careers activity in the last year.

One area of particular interest to me is that women make up only 12% of those working in engineering occupations. By the time girls reach age 16 – 19, only 25% would consider a career in engineering, less than half the proportion of boys.

With a shortage of skilled staff, excluding around half the population of Cornwall as a possible source of talent for this sector is short sighted:  we need to do more to encourage our young women (and young men) to pursue these careers.

Cornwall has been successful at partnering with the BLOODHOUND Supersonic Car, a unique rocket to create a jet powered vehicle capable of exceeding 1000mph, which visited the region a year ago.

As a project it was designed to inspire young people to pursue the STEM careers and BLOODHOUND’s country-wide education workshops have worked very well to encourage the development of science and engineering skills.

We need to do more of this, which is why World Space Week, happening from October 4-10, is so important.

Since its designation by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, World Space Week has grown to become the largest space celebration on earth, with more than 3,700 events in 80 countries. Here in Cornwall members of the Spaceport team are working with local schools to highlight the variety of careers in the space sector, and took part in a livestream Q&A interview about space that went to schools nationwide.

Both the access to space technologies and the applications that can be developed using space data represent a great opportunity for Cornwall and its young people to develop careers at the cutting edge of science and technology. Our challenge is to foster that opportunity and make sure we win a greater share of a huge global industry for the benefit of our region, economy and people.

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Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, PO Box 723, Pydar House, Pydar Street, Truro, TR1 1XU
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