Virgin Orbit says it is ready to make history in the United Kingdom tonight

Virgin Orbit says it is ready to make history in the United Kingdom tonight

Zoom in / The mission “Above the Clouds” starts in January 2022.

Orbit Virgo

After years of working through a series of regulatory issues, Virgin Orbit says it is finally ready to fly its LauncherOne rocket from the United Kingdom.

If all goes well, the modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will lift off from a spaceport in Cornwall on Monday evening, with a possible launch at 17:16 ET (22:16 UTC) over the Atlantic Ocean. This Start Me Up mission, destined for low Earth orbit, will carry satellites from seven customers in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The air launch mission has received considerable attention in the United Kingdom because it is being touted as the country’s first orbital launch. In fact, it will be the first orbital satellite launch from the UK or Western Europe. However, it will not be a vertical launch from UK soil. Spaceports capable of such launches are under construction at several locations around the country, but they probably won’t be ready for an orbital launch this year. And unlike the British launch companies aiming to use those spaceports, Virgin Orbit’s technology was developed, built and tested in the United States.

This has not dampened the enthusiasm of the proponents of the horizontal launch spaceport in Cornwall.

“I feel confident and focused and I feel ready to take on whatever comes our way,” Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said Sunday during a news conference with reporters. “I’m really excited. The public can’t wait for the UK to come and join that exclusive club because it’s going to feel good.”


Thorpe has been among a team working for eight years to bring a horizontal launch capability to Spaceport Cornwall, which sits on the site of Newquay Airport, a former Royal Air Force base. During that time, officials from the spaceport, the UK Space Agency and Virgin Orbit have been working to address regulatory concerns about the handling of the rocket in Cornwall and its launch over international waters southwest of Ireland.

Virgin Orbit had hoped to launch the mission during the fall of 2022, but ongoing documentation problems ultimately pushed the mission back to early 2023. These delays meant that Virgin Orbit only managed to launch its LauncherOne rocket twice in 2022.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be a piece of cake when we took this opportunity,” said Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, working to obtain a launch license for the UK.

Officials at Sunday’s press conference expressed hope that this launch would be the first of a regular cadence of Virgin Orbit missions from the United Kingdom.

“We’re thrilled to be here today,” Hart said. “We’re excited about the future and we’ll be back maybe later this year to launch again and hopefully get some momentum going. We want to be part of the fabric of the space community here in the UK as well as globally. This it is objective as a company and I think it has great opportunities”.

However, it is not clear how much of the infrastructure flown to Spaceport Cornwall to support the operations of the Cosmic Girl spacecraft and LauncherOne fuel will remain in place after this mission. It is also unlikely that Virgin Orbit will fly another mission from the UK for at least the next 12 months, if not much longer.

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