Meet Melissa Thorpe, the woman who leads the South West space race at Spaceport Cornwall

The P3 hangar just off the runway at Cornwall Newquay Airport has hosted Spaceport Cornwall’s Story of a Satellite exhibition throughout the summer. Now closed to the public, it will host as many schools as possible until the end of September before the exhibit is dismantled and relocated to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and the Eden Project later this year.

Launcher One, the rocket that will be used by Virgin Orbit to send small groups of satellites into space from the wing of a Boeing 747 taking off and landing in Newquay, and was to be prepared quickly before the G7 summit in June, is the star of the show. It’s huge and while it will never fly because it doesn’t have avionics on board, it is the real one and many more like this are currently being assembled at Sir’s business base. Richard Branson in California.

For new boss Melissa Thorpe and everyone at Spaceport Cornwall, the goal is to see rocket manufacturing come to Cornwall.

“We have a great launch facility here in Cornwall,” she said. “We are in talks with Virgin Orbit to see if they could build it here as well. For us, it’s about having an end-to-end approach of the entire space sector.

“We already have these incredible assets. All of the building blocks are in place from Newquay Commercial Airport to Goonhilly, with training providers working to build industry skills to all of those companies working in the aerospace industry. Our role is to improve what already exists. We’re here to connect the dots and create a whole industry and help it grow and prosper.

From satellite assembly, design and programming to manufacturing or big data analysis, Spaceport Cornwall’s goal is to create 150 jobs by 2025 and 240 more in the supply chain. The public sector organization believes the installation of the spaceport could generate £ 250million in Cornwall’s economy. It has already generated more than £ 2million in research and development in the space, aerospace and data sectors in the Duchy.

“To me, it’s not about Branson and Bezos in their race to space. They’re great for headlines and for generating publicity,” Melissa said. “And yes, it’s a gang. billionaires spending their own money on big toys But if that also makes it easier to do real science experiments and helps fund science and projects like the one we have here in Cornwall, then so what?

“If that helps put Cornwall on the world map and attract more investment and jobs, then let them run their p *** ing competition.”

Spaceport Cornwall is one of the first in the world to appoint a woman to the highest office, Melissa Thorpe

For Melissa, who arrived in Cornwall 12 years ago and watched Spaceport Cornwall move from a concept to a reality backed by hard cash and big names in the space and aerospace industry, what matters is it he role Cornwall must play in providing answers and solutions. to real problems with its emerging satellite and data technology.

This is why the launch of Cornwall’s first satellite next year – scheduled for the Queen’s Jubilee – is vital.

This will be an achievement in itself but also the start of a new chapter in the technological history of the Duchy.

“We are not allowed to launch aimlessly,” explained Melissa, detailing the type of satellites that will fit into the head of Launcher One next year and, hopefully, for years to come. “We’re a public sector taxpayer funded organization, so this launch next year will have a real payload. It will not be a question of blank firing just for the show, which would be a waste.

Kernow Sat 1 will be the first satellite to be launched from Cornwall. It will be designed and built in Cornwall with actual applications for Cornwall. It must be sustainable and have as low a carbon impact as possible on the environment. This is also our message to other companies and to space ports around the world. We want to be socially and environmentally responsible. I don’t think there is another site in the world that looks at it like we do.

Applications in the Kernow Sat series could include crowd and resource management for the high season tourism sector so that Cornwall Council and organizations like Visit Cornwall can better distribute the flow of tourists, avoid overcrowding and help reduce the impact so many visitors have on localities and their meager resources.

Other applications will be looking at kelp farming which is notoriously difficult to establish without aerial views and a full analysis of currents and sea conditions, and of course the weather. Satellites can help provide the necessary panoramic view and data sets. Kelp helps sequester more carbon in the atmosphere than trees and can be used to produce animal feed, cosmetics, as well as biofuel – and potentially rocket biofuel.

In addition to working with Virgin Galactic, Spaceport Cornwall is also working with ESA and some big names like Airbus or NASA to see if Cornwall can meet their needs for clusters of satellites launched into space, with science and technology being based here. in Cornwall.

Learn more about Cornwall’s space industry

Spaceport Cornwall is also in talks with Dream Chaser, a reusable space plane developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems. The idea behind Dream Chaser is that its space planes transport payloads in space such as science experiments, fuel or food to the International Space Station and bring the results of the experiments back to laboratories anywhere on the planet. the planet.

“Our goal,” explained Melissa, “is for Dream Chaser to use the Newquay runway, land its cargo and deliver it directly to any lab or factory off the Aerohub runway, then return to Nevada for the. next launch. We will have the capacity to do this as our new integration hangar is starting up and should be ready, hopefully, before Christmas. “

Medical research is increasingly turning to space science to conduct experiments on cancer or other diseases released from Earth’s gravity. Vaccine experiments or trials may take as little as a few weeks to conduct in space while on the planet they may take months. For Spaceport Cornwall, being able to offer the facilities and the end-to-end industry that goes with it will hopefully be an attractive proposition for research labs, universities and global technology and space companies.

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Spaceport Cornwall is already working with the University of Exeter, Truro and Penwith College and Goonhilly to develop the skills and jobs that will be needed, whether in manufacturing or data science and anything that will support and grow around the booming space sector of the Duchy.

Melissa Thorpe isn’t your average space geek. While she can hold a conversation with British astronaut Tim Peake, the mother of two 37-year-old girls, won’t know the answers to questions about the Big Bang or quantum physics.

“I grew up in British Columbia and on Vancouver Island in the middle of the forest,” she says. “My father was a firefighter pilot. I have loved airplanes ever since and I love wildlife. So for me my dad and others like him were the real heroes, trying to save the forest and wildlife with seaplanes. I wanted to be a pilot. But I have poor eyesight so that puts an end to it.

“I was also interested in astronomy, but there wasn’t a lot of support for that in an area of ​​Canada where logging and fishing were the main industries. I studied STEM subjects and economics at university and I did a master’s degree at the London School of Economics on space clusters created around Boeing or Airbus and the economic and social impact they have on these areas.

It was around this time that Cornwall Council purchased the runway at what is now Newquay Airport from the Department of Defense. Melissa, who lives in Truro, has been asked to examine Cornwall’s strengths in the aviation and aerospace sector to see how more jobs could be created in the Duchy.

Spaceport Cornwall CEO Melissa Thorpe poses in front of the Virgin Orbit Launcher One rocket on the opening day of the Story of a Satellite summer exhibit at Spaceport Cornwall on August 2, 2021 in Newquay, England. Spaceport Cornwall aims to launch its first satellites in spring 2022. (Photo by Hugh Hastings / Getty Images)

She worked with her predecessor Miles Carden for 12 years, on projects such as Bristow taking over search and rescue on behalf of HM Coastguard after the role ceased to be played by RNAS Culdrose. Then, in 2014, the UK Space Agency announced plans to have space ports scattered across the country and Newquay became a designated site for horizontal launches with places like the Shetlands or the Scottish West Isles becoming venues. vertical launchers.

“I’ve been here since day one,” Melissa said. “It was a long journey that involved a lot of hard work and a lot of conversations with people. Humans are hungry for satellites and the applications they can make. Whether we like it or not, more of them will be launched into space, so you might as well do it here in Cornwall, but do it in a way that sets the standard in terms of benefit to our region and its communities. inhabitants, in a way that is socially and ecologically sustainable.

“It’s not about space tourism. It was a bit racy and exciting 10 years ago. But now it’s all about science and data. It is much more exciting. My role is to make sure that technology and data really helps Cornwall and the people of Cornwall. Otherwise, whatever we send, there will be another space debris.

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Melissa is keen to be the face of Spaceport Cornwall, as a woman, as she wants to inspire young people, especially girls, to take an interest in STEM subjects at school.

“I see it as my responsibility to get involved with young people in Cornwall schools. I love it. I never saw women come to my school and inspire me to be a scientist when I was a child. I want them to be inspired to become the pioneers of tomorrow.

“This first launch next year will be a fantastic time after all these years of hard work. It will shine the world spotlight on Cornwall. For us here it is Cornwall. We are all passionate about where we live and developing its potential. It will be a launch for the space technology, skills and people of Cornwall. It will be a launch for Cornwall’s future and I hope we can all be proud.

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