The first orbital space launch from the UK is back and is scheduled for the evening of Monday 9th January.
Virgin Orbit says it is now ready to proceed with the historic mission, which will take place from Cornwall Newquay Airport.
You’ll see a repurposed 747 launch a rocket across the Atlantic to take nine satellites high above Earth.
Virgin gave up an attempt before Christmas for late additional tests, but the firm says it is now ready to go ahead.
Its jumbo jet, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, along with the booster, known as LauncherOne, came through a “wet dress rehearsal” this week, a practice run to refuel both vehicles and prepare them for charging down the Newquay track. .
“After ensuring that all technical aspects are sound and all standards and codes have been met, it is gratifying to see this historic effort on the verge of becoming a reality,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit.
“This launch represents the opening of a new era in the British space industry and new partnerships between industry, government and allies.”
Rockets have been sent into space from the UK before, but not to put satellites into orbit. Those earlier efforts were part of military exercises or for atmospheric research and the vehicles involved went down again.
The payloads to be launched by Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket will remain aloft, circling the Earth, when dropped at an altitude of 555 km.
Monday’s event is heralded as a watershed moment for the UK space sector.
Internationally recognized for making satellites of all sizes, the country’s space industry has always had to send its products to foreign spaceports to put them into orbit.
Adding a launch capability means that the sector in the future will be able to do everything from initial design to mission operations.
This means cost and time savings for British companies, but the hope is that the last piece of the puzzle will also make the UK a more attractive place for companies from other nations to invest.
“For us, it’s about capitalizing on the cannibalistic effect of launching to attract other companies, either in supply chain capacity or because companies ‘just want to be a part of it,'” said Melissa Thorpe, director from Spaceport Cornwall.
“We’re already looking at that. We have a building on the site due to open in March that will have R&D and work space. It’s already full, although we haven’t opened it yet,” he told Inside Science on BBCRadio 4 on Thursday.
Monday’s mission opportunity has been purchased by the US Office of National Reconnaissance and is being used to advance a number of satellite technologies of security and defense interest to both the US and UK governments. But civil applications are also being accepted into the flight, and a number of firsts, such as the first satellite built in Wales and the first satellite for the Sultanate of Oman.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates commercial spaceflight in the UK, said on Thursday that all nine spacecraft on the manifest were already licensed. Virgin and Spaceport Cornwall received their launch licenses before Christmas.
Cosmic Girl, with LauncherOne dangling below her left wing, is expected to leave Newquay sometime after 22:16 GMT.
The plane will head west to a designated drop zone off the coast of the Irish counties of Kerry and Cork.
At the right time, probably just after midnight, and at an altitude of 35,000 feet, the 747 will launch the rocket, which will then ignite its first stage engine to begin the ascent to orbit.
The southward trajectory of the rocket has required the cooperation of the Spanish and Portuguese authorities, as well as the Irish government.
Virgin Orbit, which was founded by British businessman Sir Richard Branson, is banking on a good, clean mission on Monday so it can turn its attention to the backlog of satellites it has that require travel.
The company only managed to launch twice in 2022. The Long Beach, California-based company needs to significantly increase the number of launches in 2023 to meet its business and financial goals.