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The Political Revenge of Gaia.

GEO 2442: The Politics of Climate Change and Energy.

The Cornish Space Mission: expanding Newquay Airport after declared Climate Emergency.

In 1957, the launch of Sputnik 1 inaugurated the Space Age. Since then, there’s been a transition towards the desire for connectivity while fuelling billionaires’ imaginations with the possibility and reality of monetising the stratosphere. In spite of the ubiquitous surge to battle climate change, should the development of space participation be so high on the pecking order?

Cornwall aims to provide space services such as small satellite launches in the effort to off-put its mainland geographical disadvantage.

As a result of the partnership between Cornwall Council, Virgin Orbit and Goonhilly Earth Station, Newquay Airport in Cornwall is set to be home to ‘Spaceport Cornwall‘ in which it will host Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit horizontal satellite space launches. With a proposed launch of June 2022, Kernow Sat 1 is set to be the first satellite launched from Cornish soil. Carried at approximately 35,000 ft beneath Cosmic Girl‘s (modified Boeing 747) wing, Branson’s small satellite technology will exhibit its environmental applications which include measures of wave height and sea pollution.

‘Cosmic Girl’, a modified Boeing 474 aircraft set to carry Kernow Sat 1. ©Google Images 2022.

Why Newquay? Why Cornwall?

Due to its extensive runway, access to the Atlantic Ocean and trajectory into polar orbit, Newquay Airport provides an ideal launch location. Eurostat states Cornwall as second poorest region in the whole of Northern Europe. Its hospitality and social care job sectors are the most populated and the average Cornish salary as of 2021 data is £28,400. Almost £10,000 lower than the rest of the UK’s average salary. And with the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership denoting an economic boost in this of “an additional £1bn of economic value… creating twice the average GVA/capita of £45k+”, it expresses the upshot economic positivity of the space sector.

Cornwall average salary comparison.

There’s a possibility that the Cornish themselves may not directly receive the benefits. This industry will create high-paid jobs in the science/high-tech industry. This doesn’t coincide with the job sectors of which the Cornish populate. Low qualifications could result in outsiders being employed to suffice the roles and the inequality gap already faced may be exacerbated.

Employee job by Sector (Cornwall compared with the South West region and the UK).

The satellite launches aren’t conventional rocket launches. Cosmic Girl will launch horizontally much like a standard flight of an aeroplane. So yes, they are more environmentally friendly than Elon Musks Starlink Mission but are still adding to the UK’s aviation emissions which accounted for 7% of UK GHG emissions in 2018 (pre-pandemic) and that being 88% above 1990 levels.

We want to be the world’s most environmentally responsible launch location, leading the way in attracting investment in cleaner technologies, driving positive change and pioneering practices which become the new industry standard.

Spaceport Cornwall

Spaceport Cornwall produced their first carbon impact report in 2019, which showed that ‘at the height of activities (12 launches a year in 2030), overall carbon emissions would add 0.04-0.1% to the overall emissions in Cornwall.‘ Let’s say on average each launch is an hour long to deploy the satellite, the Carbon Independent Calculator takes values of 250 kg i.e. 1/4 tonne CO2 equivalent per hour flying for a standard Boeing 373-400. Do I need to express any more reasons why this isn’t a good thing?

In that very same year as the carbon impact report, Cornwall council joined 309 other UK councils and declared a climate emergency. It announced that the council agrees current measures aren’t sufficient enough to combat climate change and they plan to act locally in reducing emissions. In its Carbon Neutral Challenge, it aims to make the county’s emissions net zero by 2030. Net zero brings the understanding that the amount of carbon emissions produced equates the amount sequestered/absorbed. Its roadmap plans to ‘decentralise’, ‘digitise’ and ‘decarbonise’ the county.

Roadmap Infographic of targets to reduce emissions.
(Cornwall Council, 2022)

But how can a county be net-zero when it has plans to expand its aviation sector?

The controversy with this surge in upgrades at Newquay airport is not one due to the upshot economic positivity but as a result of the false hope from Cornwall Council’s Climate Emergency.

Is declaring a climate summit a facade? Will Cornwall Council disguise their climate crisis as the extraordinary economic boost and exposure to an English county with an isolated geography. Morgan Stanley’s Financial Advisors predict the space industry being worth more than US$1 trillion by 2040 making it difficult to see Cornwall backing out of this environmentally damaging industry.


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