Britain’s space industry has taken another step forward with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Spaceport Cornwall and US-based Sierra Nevada Corporation which could see the latter’s Dream Chaser spaceplane using the UK’s horizontal launch site as a return location for runway landings.
The agreement comes after two years of discussions and a favourable feasibility study conducted by Sierra Space, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation. regarding the suitability of Spaceport Cornwall. The next step for appraising the site will be a more detailed landing site study ahead of Cornwall being named as a planned return location for missions in the future. This sees a valuable second launch partner being added to Virgin Orbit, who are already aiming for the UK’s first ever sovereign orbital launch from the site in 2022.
The concept of operations study, funded by the UK Space Agency as part of their Horizontal Launch Fund, investigated a number of factors including the operational requirements of Dream Chaser, the US/UK regulatory framework, return mission trajectory analysis, risk analysis, environmental and infrastructure review, as well as a consideration of present and future supply chain capability.
The shared vision is to democratise space and Dream Chaser is a reusable vehicle that launches vertically to low-Earth Orbit (LEO), returning to a runway, aiming to lower the cost of access to space. This comes at an important moment, as topics such as how satellites could help combat global climate change are currently being discussed by world leaders at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall.
For the Spaceport, the agreement will generate further growth, including demand in the local supply chain for post-mission services such as maintenance, repair, de-fuelling, and academic research for on board scientific experiment payloads. Sierra Space also offered insights into what further facilities could be offered in the ‘Centre for Space Technologies’ that is currently under construction. The multi-user cluster of buildings will offer payload integration, launch and mission operations facilities, as well as shared workspace and laboratories to conduct scientific research, potentially immediately after payloads have returned from space.
“It’s a great achievement to add an additional launch/reentry partner to our consortium a year ahead of first launch from the site in 2022,” said Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall. “Satellite technology offers so much hope in combating many of the environmental challenges being discussed here this week, and we’re proud to be able to showcase the part Cornwall, and the UK is playing.”
Ian Annett, Deputy Chief Executive of UK Space Agency, talked about how the collaboration will help Spaceport Cornwall realise their ambitions and support the growth of the UK spaceflight industry. “Dream Chaser is a sustainable concept that will bring economic benefits to the UK, create skilled jobs in the sector and ensure the UK thrives in the commercial space age,” he said.
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