Confirmed date for the first orbital launch from British soil

Confirmed date for the first orbital launch from British soil

Confirmed date for the first orbital launch from British soil

A historic launch of a rocket launching satellites into space from the UK’s south-west coast will take place on Monday.

As long as the weather is cooperative, the initial window for the Start Me Up mission will open at 10:16pm, when the LauncherOne system will beam into the sky from Spaceport Cornwall.

It will be located under the wing of a converted Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl, and with it a payload of satellites, including a factory prototype in orbit to make high value alloys and semiconductors.

The announcement of a launch date for the first orbital launch from UK soil, or anywhere in western Europe, comes after technical problems delayed it from its pre-Christmas target.

But after a successful rehearsal on Thursday, organizers confirmed Monday night’s schedule.

In the event of bad weather or other issues between now and the launch window, backup dates have been set for later in the week.

Melissa Thorpe, director of Spaceport Cornwall, described the launch date as a “phenomenal moment” that would “transform access to space around the world.”

Preparation for the launch began to accelerate at the end of last year, with the Civil Aviation Authority awarding the UK’s first spaceport license in November.

Virgin Orbit, the launch operator, received its own licenses the following month.

Licenses were granted this week for each of the satellites being transported, including the so-called Dover Pathfinder, designed in the United Kingdom by the engineering company RHEATECH.

Pathfinder is the first step toward creating a constellation of satellites to safeguard the country’s defense and critical national infrastructure, including power grids and communications networks, from hostile threats.

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How will the launch work?

This will be a horizontal launch rather than a NASA-style vertical one.

Since Cosmic Girl is an old Boeing 747, the view from Spaceport Cornwall will look no different than any other plane taking off as it takes to the sky under the cloak of night.

Beneath its left wing is LauncherOne, which will launch 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean before accelerating to 8,000 mph on its mission to launch seven satellites into orbit.

Will you be able to see it?

Most likely it will; in fact, it will be visible throughout the UK, Ireland and parts of France, Portugal and Spain.

Maps published by Virgin Orbit, the launch operator, show when and where eagle-eyed space enthusiasts in each country can expect to see it in the sky.

The path of the 69-foot (21 m) rocket, which was designed by Virgin Orbit in California, is shown in blue, with circles representing its approximate location every minute along the way.

Virgin Orbit says that people in the UK and Ireland should be able to see LauncherOne within 60 seconds of powering on, while coastal regions of France, Portugal and Spain should get a good view within two to three minutes.

The entire launch phase is estimated to take approximately 10 minutes.

What makes the mission so significant?

The UK has only completed one orbital launch, the Black Arrow in 1971, and it actually took off in Australia.

The Cornwall launch forms part of the government’s National Space Strategy and should pave the way for more.

Hoping to follow Start Me Up, there are launches from Scotland, specifically Sutherland and Shetland, and these will be vertical launches, again with satellites.

Ian Annett, deputy chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said the Cornwall launch ushered in a “new era for space in the UK”.

He said: “This will lead to new careers, improve productivity and inspire the next generation of space professionals, and this is just the beginning.

“I look forward to seeing more launches from other UK spaceports over the next year, putting us firmly on the map as Europe’s leading destination for small commercial satellite launches.”

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