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Home » Spaceport Cornwall Focused On Future As Virgin Orbit Files For Bankruptcy

Spaceport Cornwall Focused On Future As Virgin Orbit Files For Bankruptcy

Spaceport Cornwall has insisted it is only “at the beginning” of its journey, after key partner Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy.

Sir Richard Branson’s American satellite launch firm has failed to secure rescue funding, after announcing hundreds of job cuts – amounting to 85% of its workforce. It comes just months after the company attempted to shoot a rocket into orbit from the UK’s only licensed spaceport, located at Cornwall Airport Newquay, with the mission ultimately ending in failure.

Melissa Quinn, the head of the South West space cluster, said it would continue to work with global space and satellite businesses and open a new research facility this month. Ms Quinn said among the other launch operators the group was engaged with was Sierra Space – a subsidiary of US aerospace giant Sierra Nevada Corporation.

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The firm is developing what it says could be the world’s only commercial ‘spaceplane’ that can land at an airport or on a runway. Ms Quinn, who said last week that Virgin Orbit’s decision to lay off 675 staff would have “no direct impact” on Spaceport Cornwall, described the latest announcement from the company as “very sad”.

She added the capabilities of the “multiuser site” were important to UK and international space ambitions, amid a rise in demand and a lack of launch sites.

Ms Quinn said: “Our operational build at Spaceport Cornwall has enabled us to create a one-stop-shop for pre, during and post launch space activities – utilising the unique facilities of Cornwall Airport Newquay, to grow a wider space cluster. We are opening a new facility this month which will support global space and satellite businesses who will be using our satellite integration facility, R&D workspace and labs. We have directly engaged with over 100,000 school children and have recently opened our doors to school tours and STEAM activities on-site.

“Spaceport Cornwall is at the beginning of a journey, already delivering high-skilled jobs and inspirational STEAM opportunities to Cornwall and the UK – and will remain focused on furthering the international space industry and creating ‘space for good’.”

Virgin Orbit has lodged a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in the US, allowing it to stay in business in order to reorganise its affairs, debts, and assets, as it seeks a sale. The company had previously said it was anticipating additional launches from Spaceport Cornwall, and had been in “active discussions” with key government and commercial stakeholders to start plans for new missions “as soon as later this year”.

Bosses at Spaceport Cornwall had also vowed after January’s failed launch to “go again'” with a second planned for later this year, with Cornwall-made satellite – Kernow Sat1 – on board. Virgin Orbit had partnered with Cornwall Council on the Spaceport Cornwall project. The council has itself invested more than £10m into the project, and has previously claimed it could result in hundreds of new jobs while attracting businesses in the space industry to the Duchy.

Virgin Orbit, which is based in California and is 75%-owned by Virgin Group, paused all operations in March amid pressure on its finances. Mr Branson’s Virgin Investments business has injected around $43m (£35m) into Virgin Orbit in recent weeks to fund the process, support recent operations and finance severance packages.

The entrepreneur and his Virgin Group have invested more than £1bn (£809m) into the business in total. He spun out Virgin Orbit from his space tourism group Virgin Galactic as a new company in 2017.

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