Cornwall’s Space and Aerospace sector: ready to soar to new heights in 2022

Gail Eastaugh, Director of AeroSpace Cornwall, tracks the progress of the Space and Aerospace sector in Cornwall in 2021 and looks towards the promising future of the industry.

2021 has been a year of significant advancements in the UK space and aerospace sector with many milestones reached both in policy and technology. As Cornwall continues to champion these key sectors, it is no surprise that this year the region has been home to UK-first activity and innovation that has helped develop and strengthen the industry nationally and internationally. 

At the heart of Cornwall’s space and aerospace sector AeroSpace Cornwall has not only worked with a broad range of businesses, and financially supported their transition into this new and exciting arena, but we have collaborated with a range of partners to strengthen Cornwall’s cluster - accelerating the industry offering in the region and beyond. 

Since 2017 AeroSpace Cornwall has helped over 100 SMEs grow through RD&I, tailored funding and support packages. We’ve worked with a number of incredible startups pioneering innovation within space, aerospace and the associated industries. Businesses working at the cutting edge of applied AI; that are using Earth Observation to monitor and protect our environment and wildlife; those that are manufacturing and engineering the next generation of tech that will enable more effective application of space, and developing drone services and technologies to connect remote communities and lower carbon emissions.  

Since 2017, the project has administered £1.6m of grants and we are on target to deliver another £1.4m (which has leveraged £3.8m from the private sector). In total, this has injected £6m of R&D activity into the Cornish Economy, stimulating space and aerospace supply chain activity and innovation.

As we rapidly move forward and head into 2022, we’ve taken a moment to reflect on the key events and evolution across the year– looking to the future by tracking the opportunities created within the region, and the industry as a whole.

Cornwall is now at the forefront of drone technology

From gathering hyperspectral data for mining surveys, to delivering post and medical supplies to the Isles of Scilly, to identifying endangered species in the jungle using thermal infrared cameras, drones have revolutionised how we use data. In the past few years alone, we have allocated £300k of funding to R&D, testing, and commercialisation of drones and UAS.

This past year, Cornwall has been home to UK first flight trails between Lands End and the Isles of Scilly. In a world first, Royal Mail trialled the Cornish Drone Air Bridge - developed by Drone Prep, Consortiq and Windracers to enable services using both long-range, large payload drones and flexible Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) drones - for delivery. They successfully used Windracer’s ULTRA UAV to carry packages from Land’s End to the Isles of Scilly, and then used a smaller craft (operated by Skyports) for inter-island delivery. The success of this flight has led to a further planned trial period in 2022. 

As we progress towards the new year Predannick Airfield, one of five airfields in Cornwall that allow UAV flight trials, is developing as a safe sandbox environment for drone testing. They have stepped up their offering by allowing access to restricted airspace.

The capabilities to progress UAS technologies in Cornwall are attracting businesses from across the globe looking to advance their offerings. We recently welcomed global business Uali Drones who have expanded into the region to develop their AI and robotics focused businesses in the UK, utilising the unique testing environments in Cornwall to innovate in this space. 

2021 has paved the way for a historic year in UK Space 

This year has seen the UK Space Industry advance as we head towards the first launch from UK soil in 2022, happening here at Spaceport Cornwall. The release of the UK Space flight regulations has spurred nationwide acceleration and nowhere has this been more prominent than in Cornwall. This year the local government released the Space and Data Strategy - recognising the infinite potential in this area. The strategy sets out goals that determine Cornwall’s future as a leader in the National Space Programme through the harnessing of our physical, digital and intellectual assets and by using satellite data to overcome local and global challenges, such as the impact of climate change.

As a result of the region’s commitment to space, Cornwall’s Space Cluster is continuing to grow - attracting businesses from across the UK and beyond. Recently we have welcomed a range of innovative companies to the region: businesses who specialise Earth Observation like 4 Earth Intelligence and Aspia Space; Pelory, a data science company specialising in space, and Space Engineering Systems; who design and manufacture spacecraft for a wide range of flight profiles.

These companies have expanded here following a year of development of Cornwall’s on the ground assets and capabilities - ready to meet the demands of the growing industry - and the announcement of key collaborations in the sector, laying the foundations for further progress.

We were thrilled to announce an all-new collaboration between AeroSpace Cornwall and the MILO Institute that will see us deliver the UK’s first ever MILO Ambassador programme. With support from Lockheed Martin, MILO aims to bring compelling, affordable space science missions to the world, and this exciting partnership will accelerate technology maturation across the Cornwall Space Cluster. We are working with Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd to deliver the MILO Ambassador programme, focusing initially on the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly region, then expanding across the UK and the rest of the world. 

Having been at the forefront of satellite communications for more than fifty years, Goonhilly Earth Station is set to play an instrumental role in the next generation of space exploration - with its new GHY-6 antenna (opened this summer) enabling deep space communications on pioneering missions to the moon and mars. GHY-6 is the world’s first commercially operational deep space antenna, and will play a key role in furthering and supporting deep space missions. 

As well as this, Truro & Penwith College is building state-of-the-art space facilities (CSATT) that will rival the best in the UK. In collaboration with businesses and educators, CSATT is developing world-class training courses to help businesses and individuals reach new heights in support of the long-term success of the sector that is expected to add £1 billion to the Cornish economy.

Cornwall’s assets are nationally important and central to the UK national spaceflight programme. With a new era of space exploration and application upon us, and the significant developments and rapid commercialisation of UAS technology leading to a pioneering industry, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is at the forefront of the activity taking place. 

The advancements in Cornwall over the last few years, coupled with the innovative businesses AeroSpace Cornwall have supported, has shown the strength of the UK’s industry and the power of collaboration. 2022 will be historic for the UK and more specifically for Cornwall’s Space Cluster.

If you want to hear more about the opportunities in our space and aerospace clusters, get in touch today.