Having met the safety, security and environmental markers, as well as hosting infrastructure required for space launches, Spaceport Cornwall could be witnessing its first launch soon with Virgin Orbit.
Since the beginning, the UK’s entry into a new commercial space age has been driven with the goal to pioneer state-of-the-art developments in satellite launch and sub-orbital flight through the establishment of world-leading space capabilities, advanced small satellite technology and local spaceports. As such, Spaceport Cornwall has achieved a milestone for the country’s space sector when it was issued an operating license by the aviation regulator, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This license indicates that the Newquay-based spaceport has met all safety, security and environmental measures, as well as hosting the infrastructure, equipment and services required for horizontal space launches. And the spaceport could be witnessing its first launch soon with Virgin Orbit.
The horizontal launch facility at the site will allow satellites to be sent to space on modified aeroplanes from which the satellite device will launch itself into orbit midway. One such prospective aircraft will be the converted Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl. It will take off from the spaceport and fly 35,000ft over the Atlantic to launch the LauncherOne rocket which will transport seven payloads into Lower Earth Orbit (LEO). Through this ‘Start Me Up’ mission, the mission will launch two cubesats that are part of a joint venture between the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the US’ National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Some of the other satellites come from the government of Oman and Space Forge.
The Launcherone rocket had already arrived at the Newquay site early this month from California to start preparing for the launch of Virgin Orbit’s mission, ‘Start Me Up’. With the license granted to Spaceport Cornwall now, the company can start preparing for mission readiness, including a full wet dress rehearsal. And Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, mentioned that he was expecting to launch “in the coming weeks.” This historic launch will not only be the UK’s first orbital launch ever but it will also be the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, and the first commercial launch from Western Europe.
Spaceport Cornwall is only one of seven spaceports that are being built across Britain, with five others in Scotland and one in Wales. With the new milestone of operational license achieved, Spaceport Cornwall will be bringing new markets to the UK, while inspiring the upcoming generation of British space scientists and entrepreneurs.
Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, firmly believes, “Virgin Orbit’s planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”