Historic Cornwall rocket mission is ready for blast off

Historic Cornwall rocket mission is ready for blast off

Historic Cornwall rocket mission is ready for blast off

jumbo and rocket

The jumbo will carry the rocket to 35,000 feet

The first orbital space launch from British soil prepares to take off.

In Monday’s mission, a redesigned 747 jumbo jet will launch a rocket over the Atlantic to carry nine satellites above Earth.

Newquay Airport in Cornwall is the departure point for the operation, Monday night after 2100 GMT.

If successful, it will be a major milestone for the UK space, marking the birth of a local launch industry.

“What we’ve seen over the last eight years is this surge of enthusiasm towards something very aspirational and different for Cornwall, something that started as a project that a lot of people didn’t really think would ever happen,” said Melissa Thorpe. , who runs Spaceport Cornwall.

“What I think people have seen here in Cornwall is a small team that lives and breathes in this county and delivers something quite incredible.”

Map

Aircraft and ships have been told to stay out of the drop zone.

This first foray into orbital launch from UK territory is actually using an American company, Virgin Orbit, which was founded by Sir Richard Branson.

The British businessman has converted one of his old airliners to carry a rocket, called LauncherOne, under its left wing.

When the 747 leaves Newquay, it will head west over the Atlantic to a designated launch zone off the coast of the Irish counties of Kerry and Cork.

At the opportune moment and at an altitude of 35,000 feet, the Virgin jet will release the rocket, which will then ignite its first stage engine to begin its ascent into orbit.

The BBC had the rare opportunity to look inside Virgin Orbit’s transport plane, nicknamed Cosmic Girl.

On the lower deck, everything has been disassembled to save weight, because a fully fueled rocket is a heavy load.

Above, two flight engineers will sit at consoles to monitor the launch. However, the cockpit remains largely unchanged, apart from the addition of a small red button which, when pressed, will release the rocket.

Mathew “Stanny” Stannard, an RAF squadron leader, is posted to Virgin Orbit and will be the lead pilot, sitting in the left seat.

“We will be monitoring the rocket, making sure it is healthy until the very end,” he explained.

“And then we get into what’s called a terminal count procedure. That’s where things for us certainly get more interesting as we go through that sequence of pressurizing the tank and cooling the lines.

“And at the end of that terminal count, it’s my job to make sure the plane is at the right point in the sky, in the right position, so that when the rocket says ‘I’m ready to go,’ it’s gone.”

Prometheus-2

Two of the satellites, called Prometheus-2, will test new imaging and radio technologies.

To date, Long Beach, California-based Virgin Orbit has successfully completed four consecutive rocket launches over the Pacific Ocean. The flights began from the Mojave Air and Space Port, north of Los Angeles,

For the UK mission, the team moved to Cornwall to establish new mission control.

Deenah Sanchez, launch director, says it will be a complex operation.

“We basically have three different launch systems,” he told BBC News.

“We have our ground hardware, we have a complete aircraft and a rocket, so we have people who specialize in each area here in the control room.”

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart joked that aside from Cornish patties versus American burgers, there wasn’t much difference in how his team would operate for the UK flight. “[It’s] a little different weather than Mojave, but otherwise the team is turning the keys the same way,” he said.

Newquay Airport

A corner of Newquay airport has been dedicated to the activities of Spaceport Cornwall

If the launch goes as planned, nine small satellites will be launched into an orbit more than 500 km above the planet.

They have a mix of civil and military applications, ranging from ocean monitoring to navigation technology.

One of the shoebox-sized satellites belongs to Cardiff-based company Space Forge. The company wants to use satellites to make novel, high-value materials and components in space.

Josh Western, CEO of Space Forge, said: “For the first time, the UK has all the pieces of the puzzle to be able to design and develop satellites, launch them from the UK and operate them from the UK.”

There is a lot of hope for this rocket and its mission is just the beginning of the UK’s future strategy for space.

Along with a growing satellite industry, Scottish companies Skyrora and Orbex are leading the way in building more traditional vertical launch systems – rockets that rise directly from the ground.

These vehicles will operate from Shetland and Sutherland in the far north of the country, possibly as late as 2023.

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