Virgin Orbit says it is poised to make history in the UK tonight

Virgin Orbit says it is poised to make history in the UK tonight

zoom in / The “Above the Clouds” mission will be launched in January 2022.

Virgin Orbit

After years of working through regulatory issues, Virgin Orbit says it is finally ready to fly its LauncherOne rocket from the UK.

If all goes well, a modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl The planes will take off from a spaceport in Cornwall on Monday afternoon with a chance to launch over the Atlantic Ocean at 17:16 ET (22:16 UTC). This “Start Me Up” mission, aimed at low Earth orbit, will carry satellites from seven customers in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The air launch mission has received a lot of attention in the UK as it is being touted as the nation’s first orbital launch. It will also be the first orbital satellite launch from the UK or Western Europe. However, it will not be a vertical shot from the ground in the UK. Spaceports capable of such projectiles are under construction at various locations around the nation, but they likely won’t be ready for an orbital launch this year. And unlike the British launch companies that aim to use those spaceports, Virgin Orbit’s technology was developed, built and tested in the United States.

This has not dampened the enthusiasm of supporters of Cornwall’s horizontal launch spaceport.

“I feel confident and focused and ready to handle whatever comes our way,” Spaceport Cornwall chief Melissa Thorpe said at a news conference with reporters on Sunday. “I’m so excited. The public can’t wait to come to the UK and join that exclusive launch club because it’s going to feel good.”

Thorpe has been part of a team working for eight years to bring a horizontal launch capability to Spaceport Cornwall, home to Newquay Airport, a former Royal Air Force base. During that time, officials from the spaceport, the UK Space Agency and Virgin Orbit have worked to resolve regulatory concerns about handling the Cornwall rocket and launching it from international waters southwest of Ireland.

Virgin Orbit had hoped to launch the mission in the fall of 2022, but problems with paperwork eventually pushed the mission back to early 2023. Thanks to these delays, Virgin Orbit managed to launch its LauncherOne rocket only twice in 2022.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be a thing when we took this opportunity,” said Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, which is working to secure a launch license for the UK.

Officials at Sunday’s press conference said the launch was expected to be the first in a regular cadence of UK Virgin Orbit missions.

“We’re excited to be here today,” Hart said. “We’re excited about the future, and we’ll be back later this year to re-launch and hopefully get the momentum going. We want to be part of the fabric of the space community here in the UK and around the world. That’s our aim as a company, and I think there’s a huge opportunity.”

However, it is not clear how much infrastructure to support Spaceport Cornwall Cosmic Girl aircraft and LauncherOne’s fueling operations will remain there after this mission. It is also unlikely that Virgin Orbit will fly another mission from the UK for at least the next 12 months, if not considerably longer.

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