A UK spacecraft that will host the first Virgin Orbit launch from non-US soil has been given the go-ahead by the UK’s national regulator, paving the way for Europe’s first orbital landing.
Cornwall Spaceporta converted airfield in the south west of England, is now ready for the first orbital launch from the UK. The UK Civil Aviation Authority issued a spaceport license to the airport, at Newquay on Britain’s west coast, on Wednesday (Nov 16) after the airport proved it complied with “legislative requirements for safety, security, environmental and other aspects,” the UK Space Agency said in statement (opens in new tab).
The spaceport is now ready to conduct horizontal space launches — launches that use aircraft as a first stage and release a small rocket above the thicker layer earth’s atmosphere.
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Virgin Orbit the “wet dress” rehearsal will now begin before the long awaited launchwhich represents the first step in the UK’s ambition to build a reputation as a destination for small satellite launches.
Virgin Orbit has previously made appearances four successful flights from Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California, which together delivered dozens of small satellites low earth orbit for a variety of customers.
During the upcoming wet dress rehearsal, the company will perform the entire pre-launch procedure, including fueling and countdown, minus only the actual takeoff and launch.
“The first spaceport license granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority is another important milestone as we look forward to the first satellite launch from UK soil this year,” said Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency. “Getting to this stage is testament to the hard work from partners across government and industry to make our launch ambitions a reality and we are now tantalizingly close.”
During its first mission to the UK, called Start Me Up after a famous song by the British band Rolling Stones, Virgin Orbit will bring into low Earth orbit several small satellites, including a on-orbit production experiment and one UK military satellite.
“Being the UK’s first licensed spaceport is a historic moment,” Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said in the statement. “Cornwall is now ready to open up the use of space for good and support UK industry to harness the power of space to benefit life on Earth.”
The UK has ambitions to become a major player in the small satellite launch market. Two other sites are now awaiting approval to launch small vertical missiles, one located at north coast of scotland and the other in Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. Two UK-based companies, Orbex and Skyroraare currently finalizing the developments of their small satellite launchers, hoping to fly for the first time next year.