CAA Grants UK’s First Ever Spaceport Licence
Airports Innovation

CAA Grants UK’s First Ever Spaceport Licence

DALLAS – Cornwall Airport Newquay (NQY) has been awarded the UK’s first-ever spaceport license. The country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued the license on November 16 after the facility was able to meet “the appropriate safety, security, environment, and other aspects to operate a UK spaceport.”

Dubbed ‘Spaceport Cornwall,’ the facility aims to utilize the former Royal Air Force (RAF St. Mawgan) 9,003-foot (2,744-meter) runway to facilitate horizontal space launches.

The license will now give Virgin Orbit, part of the Virgin Group, the opportunity to commence ‘wet dress’ rehearsals for its ‘Start Me Up’ missions, the first of their kind in Europe.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket arriving at Spaceport Cornwall. Photo: Spaceport Cornwall

‘Cosmic Girl’


These missions will see former Virgin Atlantic (VS) Boeing 747-400 (G-VWOW) ‘Cosmic Girl’ depart from NQY with the LauncherOne rocket under its wing. Once at the required cruising height, the rocket will unclip and be powered into space using its own engines. The 747, now re-registered as N744VG, will then return to the spaceport.

The UK’s growing space industry is estimated to be worth £16.5 billion (US$19.5 billion). It will support around 47,000 jobs and 2,500 apprentices.

Richard Moriarty, CAA Chief Executive, said of that the regulatory body was “proud to be playing our part in facilitating the UK’s space ambitions through assessing the safety, security and other requirements of these activities.”

“This is another major milestone to enable this country to become a leading launch nation,” he added.

The LancherOne rocket is attached under the 747s wing. Photo: Virgin Orbit.

Regulating Air and Space


The CAA became the UK’s space agency in July 2021 and has since granted almost 150 satellite licenses.

Speaking of the task of regulating this burgeoning sector, Moriarty said, “When we became the space regulator, we committed to delivering in an open, effective, and proportionate way, with public safety at its heart. Our work does not stop with this licence decision as we continue to assess other licence applications and oversee the effectiveness of licenced activities, all enabling the UK’s space sector to grow safely and securely.”

Spaceport Cornwall has been working with various groups, including the UK government, the Marine Management Organisation, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and the Health and Safety Executive, for months to secure the license.

The former RAF St. Mawgan has a large runway suitable for modified airliners to carry out horizontal space launches. Photo: Spaceport Cornwall

Preparing for a UK Launch


Melissa Thorpe, head of the facility, said that the approval was a “historic moment” for NQY. “The regulatory environment created by the Civil Aviation Authority ensures that the UK launch will set the global bar in terms of responsibility and transparency.”

“Cornwall is now ready to open up the use of Space for Good, and support the UK industry in harnessing the power of space to benefit life on Earth,” she explained.

The CAA is working closely with Virgin Orbit on its license applications ahead of the proposed first UK launch. Dan Hart, CEO of the company, said that they “appreciate the efforts of the British regulatory agencies with the support of the US Federal Aviation Administration in this first-time licensing process, as we strive in our respective roles to ensure a safe and successful mission in the coming weeks.”


Featured Image: Spaceport Cornwall is located at Cornwall Airport Newquay (NQY). Photo: Virgin Orbit

European Deputy Editor
Writer, aviation fanatic, and Airways European Deputy Editor, Lee is a plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK-based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

You cannot copy content of this page