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It’s Official: Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Will Conduct UK’s Historic Space Launch

This doesn’t come as a surprise, but the fact that it’s official makes it even more solemn – British billionaire Sir Richard Branson and his aerospace company Virgin Orbit are going down in history as the pioneers of the UK’s new adventures in space. And this isn’t just about Britain, but also a huge step for the European space industry.
Virgin Orbit's modified Boeing will conduct UK's first space launch from British soil 7 photos
Photo: Virgin Orbit
Spaceport CornwallSpaceport CornwallVirgin Orbit's Boeing and Launcher TestVirgin Orbit's Boeing and Launcher TestVirgin Orbit's Boeing and Launcher TestVirgin Orbit's Boeing and Launcher Test
Less than two years ago, an official UK space regulator didn’t even exist. And neither did an officially-designated spaceport on the country’s territory. Things moved incredibly fast, considering all the legislative aspects of such a major endeavor. Britain is literally building a brand-new space industry in front of our eyes.

Now, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA – the official space regulator since 2021) together with the UK Space Agency and the new Spaceport Cornwall are getting ready to pave the way for a space launch that’s going down in history. And the one to carry it out is Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit.

Aptly named “Start Me Up,” (apparently a tribute to the Rolling Stones) the mission will be launched from Spaceport Cornwall, which operates out of Cornwall Newquay Airport. Virgin’s modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet will be carrying the rocket, then releasing it at 35 000 feet (10,668 meters) in a designed spot over the Atlantic Ocean.

This will be the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil, which will also be a premiere for Europe. Until now, European space missions needed to rely on launches from other territories.

It had been known for some time now that Virgin Orbit would be the trailblazer for this important mission, but now it’s official, with the CAA confirming that Branson’s company was issued launch and range licenses.

More than a year after the British government introduced the legislative framework for future satellite launches on the country’s territory, Spaceport Cornwall obtained the license for the Start Me Up mission.

This confirms that it complies with all safety and security requirements, and that it has the adequate infrastructure to carry out horizontal space launches (referring to the fact that Virgin Orbit’s “Cosmic Girl” will carry the launcher horizontally, before it’s released, as opposed to the standard vertical launches).

UK’s “galactic gateway” is about to be opened, as Transport Secretary Mark Harper has stated, paving the way for regular space missions. In just one year, more than 150 satellite licenses were issued by CAA.

And it’s not the only historic space-related event coming up in the UK. As the first vertical spaceport in the UK (Space Hub Sutherland) is also coming to life, Orbex Prime is gearing up to become the first British rocket launched in more than half a century, since the Black Arrow.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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