The first European orbital launch will now be possible thanks to a license granted by the U.K. national regulator to a U.K. spaceport that will host the Virgin Orbit launch from a non-American location.
The first orbital launch from the United Kingdom will take place from Spaceport Cornwall, an airport that has been modified in the southwest of England. After demonstrating compliance with “statutory requirements on safety, security, environment, and other factors,” the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority on Wednesday (Nov. 16) granted the airport at Newquay, on the British west coast, a spaceport license (opens in new tab).
The spaceport is currently prepared to undertake horizontal space launches, which include the deployment of a tiny rocket from an aircraft as the first stage of a launch above the densest part of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The “wet dress” rehearsal for the eagerly anticipated launch, which marks the first step in the U.K.’s desire to establish itself as a preferred location for small-satellite launches, will now be conducted by Virgin Orbit.
Virgin Orbit has successfully launched dozens of tiny satellites into low Earth orbit for a range of clients on four prior occasions from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California.
The business will simulate the whole pre-launch process, including fueling and the countdown, with the exception of the actual takeoff and launch, during the upcoming wet dress rehearsal.
According to Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the U.K. Space Agency, “the first-ever spaceport license given by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority is another key milestone as we look forward to the first satellite launch from U.K. land this year.” We are now tantalizingly close because to the dedication of our partners in business, government, and academia who have worked so hard to realize our launch objectives.
Virgin Orbit will launch five tiny satellites into low Earth orbit on its maiden U.K. mission, called Start Me Up after a well-known song by the British band Rolling Stones. These satellites include a U.K. military satellite and an in-orbit manufacturing experiment.
Spaceport Cornwall’s director, Melissa Thorpe, said in the statement that it was a historic occasion to be the first spaceport in the U.K. to get a license to operate. “Cornwall is now prepared to open up the use of space for beneficial purposes and support the U.K. business in utilizing the power of space to enhance life on Earth.”
The United Kingdom wants to dominate the market for tiny satellite launches. The permission to launch small vertical rockets is currently pending at two further locations, one off the shore of Scotland’s northern coast and the other on the Shetland Islands. In order to make their debut flights the following year, two U.K.-based businesses, Orbex and Skyrora, are now finishing up the development of their small satellite launchers.