Cornwall 'on track' to host UK’s first space launch

The launch by Virgin Orbit is expected to create 150 jobs in the local area

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Virgin Orbit’s next satellite mission will be launched from the south-western English county of Cornwall, expected to take off in late summer.

This will be the UK’s first orbital launch, paving the way for the country's ambition to have a thriving space industry, with a buzzing spaceport in Cornwall and several across Scotland.

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit recently completed its fourth satellite mission for the United States Space Force, which took off from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port on July 1.

Now, the company is getting ready to launch its fifth satellite mission and first international launch from the UK.

This will be the first orbital launch ever from UK soil
Virgin Orbit

“Following the success of this launch, the Virgin Orbit team is preparing for its first international launch later this year in collaboration with the United Kingdom Space Agency, the Royal Air force and Space Port Cornwall,” the company said.

“This will be the first orbital launch ever from UK soil.”

Virgin Orbit plans to carry a Welsh satellite, built by start-up ForgeStar, into space from a horizontal launch pad in Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay.

The ForeStart-0 satellite is the first step in the company’s plan to build a small manufacturing plant in space, which will create products in space and then return them to Earth.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said they were on track for the launch later this year.

“The success of this last launch in California is extremely rewarding for Spaceport Cornwall and the UK space sector,” she said.

“It was amazing to see both the team from Virgin Orbit and our team working together to mirror the US operations in real time, ensuring we’re mission-ready for the summer.

“This gave us a taste of what is to come and our team could not be more excited.”

Spaceport Cornwall offers an existing airport runway and facilities that can be used for horizontal launches to space.

Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, called Cosmic Girl, which releases a rocket mid-air when the plane reaches a target altitude.

The aircraft returns to the runway and the rocket, called LauncherOne, carries the satellite payloads into low-Earth orbit.

The expected launch will help create 150 jobs in the local area.

The UK’s Science Minister George Freeman also hailed Virgin Orbit's recent successful US mission.

“With the countdown on to the first satellite launch from UK soil, it’s incredible to see Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne in action before they head to Spaceport Cornwall,” he said.

“We are in a strong position to capitalise on the growing global demand for small satellite launches and to do so in a way that will keep space and our planet sustainable for future generations.”

Several horizontal and vertical spaceports are in development across the UK, including five in Scotland.

According to the UK Space Centre, a vertical launch is a traditional rocket launch, during which an upright rocket ignites and lifts off skyward.

A horizontal launch means that a plane takes off from a runway carrying a rocket, which detaches itself and heads into space.

The Orbex Prime rocket is expected to eventually launch from the Sutherland Spaceport near Scotland’s northern coast.

Another spaceport is in development at the Shetland Islands, where Lockheed Martin has set up UK launch operations.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 3:59 AM