Final preparations are underway in Cornwall for the first space launch from UK soil.
Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747, called Cosmic Girl, will take off from Spaceport Cornwall to deploy a rocket mid-air for launch into low Earth orbit within weeks.
The window opens on October 29, but the team is aiming for take-off within the first half of November.
The rocket will be carrying eight shoebox-sized satellites, which will perform a variety of tasks for customers including Oman and the US and UK militaries.
“They are all doing lots of different things,” said Melissa Thorpe, chief executive of Spaceport Cornwall.
“We have a satellite that’s looking at monitoring illegal fishing off the coast of the UK. We have one that’s looking at how we can manufacture products in space, in orbit, rather than here on Earth.
“We have the military looking at GPS and navigation for our forces overseas. And then we have one that’s doing quite a lot of weather monitoring, again for our forces.
“The Omani satellite is going to be helping us with climate change,” she added.
A few are even coming from within the UK.
“That is really exciting for us because that’s the whole reason we are here, to service this amazing satellite industry that we have already here, which has never been able to launch before,” said Ms Thorpe.
“That’s huge for us to be able to offer that to them. Instead of getting shipped overseas, they can get on a lorry and come down the M5 for the first time.”
Work is under way to load the satellites onto the rocket at the spaceport’s newly inaugurated Space Systems Integration Facility.
So far only the Omani satellite has been integrated, but the others will follow within the next week.
“Integration basically means a satellite arrives at the facility where there is something called the clean room, which is a very sterile environment where the satellites get put inside the fairing of the rocket,” said Ms Thorpe.
“So in this case, it is basically the nose cone of the rocket that splits open almost like a clamshell. And the satellites are put into the fairing and then that rocket is then encapsulated, which means closed and secured, ready to go up to space.”
Once complete, the spaceport will turn its attention to further projects with Virgin Orbit, among other opportunities.
“We are also working with another company called Sierra Space and the Dream Chaser operation, which is almost like a shuttle, where it would take off vertically, go up to space and come back down. We are going to be a landing site for them in the future,” said Ms Thorpe.