Virgin Orbit Set for the first orbital launch from UK soil
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Cosmic Girl during a flight on January 17, 2021. Photo by Matthew C. Hartman (AP)
A modified Boeing plane with an underwing rocket will take off from British soil as early as next week, marking the UK’s first-ever orbital launch.
Virgin Orbit is preparing to launch its Cosmic Girl mothership from Spaceport Cornwall in England after clearing some final regulatory hurdles to pave the way for the historic launch. Cosmic Girl is ready for launch on Monday, January 9th at 5:16pm ET, with reserve windows available on January 13th, 15th, 19th and 20th.
“What an incredible honor it is for us to be a part of something as monumental as bringing the UK into the launch business,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, in a statement expression. The UK Civil Aviation Authority granted Virgin Orbit launch and range control licenses in late December, allowing the company to set a date for the historic mission.
Cosmic Girl is Virgin Orbit’s proven Boeing 747 aircraft modified to serve as a missile carrier. The Boeing plane, which has all the seats ripped out, will carry the LauncherOne launch vehicle under its left wing. At approximately 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), the aircraft will release the booster over the Atlantic. From that high altitude, the rocket will then attempt to launch its payload into orbit, in a process that uses less fuel than traditional ground launches.
The mission, titled Start Me Up, was named in honor of the hit song by British rockers The Rolling Stones. It will carry satellites for seven commercial and government customers, including two CubeSats for the UK MoD; Oman’s AMAN Earth observation satellite (its first orbital mission); and Stork-6, the sixth satellite to be included in Poland’s CubeSat Earth observation constellation.
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The launch is being hailed as a major breakthrough for the UK space industry. Rockets have been launched from British soil before, but never to deliver payloads into orbit. With this mission, Britain is finally getting into the lucrative business of bringing satellites to their orbital posts and giving British companies local access to space. A new era for the UK appears to be on the horizon as commercial exploitation of space continues to grow around the world.
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