Virgin Orbit is about to make space exploration history starting Monday, January 9th. The company that launches small spacecraft will carry out the first takeoff of the Boeing 747 “Cosmic Girl” from an airport in Great Britain.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the four-engined jet will carry the “Launcher One” rocket in its belly, which will be released at an altitude of about 35,000 feet and then fire its engine and climb to Earth’s orbit.
It will then be the first time that a satellite launch in Western Europe, a cargo from seven customers, part of the “Start Me Up” mission (any coincidence with the famous song by the Rolling Stones is not a mere coincidence).
The endorsement of the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority was obtained in December, paving the way for the launch to take place from Newquay Airport, a small tourist town in Cornwall.
On Thursday, the Boeing 747-400 adapted for launch carried out a complete test, including all the planned phases.
Virgin Orbit predicts that the launch will take place from 22:16 UTC time, when the initial window opens – the company said it has other reservation dates in case any unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather prevent the flight.
We are entering a new era for space in the UK with the first ever satellite launch from UK soil and from Europe. This is a significant landmark for the nation, the UK Space Agency and for all those who have worked so hard over many years to make our ambitions to create a commercial space launch capability a reality,” said Ian Annett, CEO of the UK Space Agency.
The Start Me Up mission will be the 5th consecutive one by Virgin Orbit, which has so far launched 33 satellites from the USA. The possibility of carrying out launches from other countries should increase competition to put small satellites weighing up to 500 kg into orbit, which depended only on the US, the European space agency (which uses its base in French Guiana) and the Russians to reach space.