Wardell Armstrong’s Space Odyssey to Sustainability

Wardell Armstrong have supported Spaceport Cornwall and Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit on their latest venture – the UK’s first licensed Spaceport!
Being the newest airport in the UK and with one of the longest runways at 2,744m, Newquay Airport has been selected as home to a new horizontal launch Spaceport. Within the next few weeks, Cornwall Council and Virgin Orbit hope for orbiting satellites to be launched from a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. Once the aircraft reaches 35,000 ft, a rocket will detach, igniting its boosters and taking its payload of satellites into orbit. 

Wardell Armstrong were commissioned to provide a bespoke Sustainability Plan for the Spaceport, to be submitted to the UK Space Agency as part of the project development and permitting. By taking into consideration the effects of the Spaceport on a range of receptors we were able to determine how well the project is likely to accord with low carbon and sustainability policy and objectives, in the context of Cornwall’s declared climate emergency and alignment of the project with the UN Sustainability Goals. 

This project brought together specialists from across the Firm, aiming to quantify the sustainability impact. We considered not only scope 1, 2 and 3 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, but also carbon offsetting, waste and recycling, transport, air quality, water use and flooding, effects on biodiversity, building design and layout, and public perception. The work resulted in a package of five deliverables, all submitted to the UK Space Agency and approved on first submission with no clarifications requested! Not only do these studies assess the potential sustainability impact but offer forms of mitigation that Cornwall Council will commit to delivering with respect to design and management of the Spaceport. Additionally, an Ethical Plan was developed based on international best practice and policy across the space industry and establishing a way that Spaceport Cornwall can ensure their launches comply with stringent measures pertaining to space debris and sustainability in space. The Ethical Plan is a new concept and deliverable developed by Wardell Armstrong, the conclusion of which is a framework for ethical decision making, in this case regarding satellite launches, but a concept we can develop for a range of different developers and operators. 

Following the initial stages of work, we were then invited to assist with the production of the Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE), a requirement under the Space Industry Act 2018. The AEE is a necessary part of obtaining a license from the CAA and must be undertaken by all operators of Spaceports and spacecraft hoping to operate in the UK. Wardell Armstrong provided significant input into both the Spaceport and Operator AEE’s for Spaceport Cornwall orbit with topics covered ranging from climate change, through to air quality, water quality, major accidents and disaster and noise.   

Being involved in a new and untested licensing process based upon new guidance was both extremely challenging and rewarding, with the team at Wardell Armstrong working alongside the technical and environmental teams at the CAA, Spaceport Cornwall, Mantech and Virgin Orbit to achieve a successful outcome.  

The AEE was scrutinised by stakeholders, the public, MPs and regulators before the successful granting of the first ever Spaceport license in the UK in November. This incredible milestone would not have been achieved without the professional and patient input from the team at Wardell Armstrong.  

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