NEWQUAY, UK – A giant leap forward for the UK space sector is set to take place tonight, Monday (9 January), as Virgin Orbit prepares for its first launch from Britain and Europe.
The launch, which could still be disrupted by bad weather or technical glitches, will Virgin Orbit’It’s the first from a location other than the company’s US homebase in California’s Mojave Desert. It will also be the first ever orbital launch from the UK, although the country previously launched a satellite into orbit atop a domestic rocket from Australia in the early 1970s. New mission, called “start Me Up,” after a song by legendary British band The Rolling Stones, will see Virgin Orbit’s converted Boeing 747-400 airplane cosmic Girl Fly from an airport in Newquay, a popular tourist town on the picturesque Atlantic coast in the Cornwall region in southwest England.
If all goes according to plan, Cosmic Girl, with Virgin Orbit’s two-stage Launcher One rocket tucked under its wing, will lift off from Newquay Airport, now called Spaceport Cornwall, between 4:40 and 6 p.m. EST (2140 and 2300 GMT). ) tonight. Then, it will climb to an altitude of 35,000 feet (10.6 kilometers) above the Atlantic Ocean before releasing the rocket about an hour into the flight. Launcher One will perform an orbital burn with each of its two stages before releasing its cargo of nine small satellites. You can watch the launch at 4pm EST (2100 GMT) courtesy of Virgin Orbit in the window above or directly on the company’s YouTube (opens in new tab),
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“We’ll do a three-minute first stage burn, followed by a second stage burn of about six minutes,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said during a pre-launch news conference on Sunday (8 January). “We’ll coast around Antarctica, come close to Australia. And then we’ll see the final burn and the payload deployed.”
Hart said the nighttime launch slot, which can be frustrating for spectators, was chosen because of the orbital requirements of the customers’ satellites.
The rocket that arrived in Britain in October completed its work wet dress rehearsal (Full details of the pre-launch process) last week. According to Hart, the Virgin Orbit team was set to refuel later on Sunday.
For Spaceport Cornwall, which received its spaceport license from the UK Civil Aviation Authority in November, the Start Me Up mission is what is hoped to be the start of a long and fruitful collaboration with the region as well as the country as a whole.
“The space industry is worth around £6.5 billion [$7.7 billion] annually to the UK economy,” Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, which co-financed the development of Spaceport Cornwall, said during the news conference.
“As a country, we are absolutely brilliant at designing and building satellites: We build more satellites than anywhere else outside the US,” he said. “So it helps to develop end-to-end capability so that we can do everything.”
Spaceport Cornwall is one of seven UK locations that were awarded funding by the UK Space Agency in 2017 to develop spaceport sites suitable for launching small satellites. low earth orbit, Other launch facilities are under construction in Sutherlandin the north of Scotland, and on the Shetland Islands Both are aimed at conventional, vertical rocket launches, off the Scottish coast.
Spaceport Cornwall CEO Melissa Thorpe said it cost less than £20 million ($24 million) to turn the small Newquay airport into a space-ready site.
“The foundations were already here,” Thorpe said. “We had one of the longest runways in the UK, access to the sea and a team that had the will to turn it into a spaceport.”
She said that work has been done on strengthening the taxiway and strengthening the turning pad to allow Cosmic Girl to move more efficiently. The airport has also built a brand new Space Systems Integration Facility where customer satellites can be safely integrated into the rocket fairing.
During its UK debut, Virgin Orbit will launch nine payloads, including one In-orbit manufacturing experiment by UK company Space ForgeA set of CubeSats from the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory designed to study the ionosphere (the upper region of the atmosphere where space weather occurs), and an innovative navigation satellite co-funded by the European Space Agency.
UK weather forecaster the Met Office has predicted fair weather in Newquay throughout Monday with only a 10% chance of rain all day. In the event of a last-minute cancellation, the next launch attempt will be on Friday (January 13), with additional windows being opened for Sunday (January 15), January 18, January 19 and January 20.
Virgin Orbit is a sister company to the space tourism-focused Virgin Galactic, with both companies owned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, but according to Thorpe, there are no plans to bring space tourism to Cornwall.