First rocket launch from UK soil set for Monday

The first rocket launch from UK soil is expected to take place on Monday.

If all goes to plan, and the weather cooperates, satellites will be blasted into space from Spaceport Cornwall as part of the Start Me Up mission.

The initial window for the historic mission will open at 10.16pm on Monday, with additional back-up dates continuing into mid and late January

Named in tribute to The Rolling Stones 1981 hit, the mission involves a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

The 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl, will take off horizontally from the new facility at Cornwall Airport Newquay while carrying the rocket, before releasing it at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.

The plane will then return to the spaceport while the rocket will ignite its engine and take multiple small satellites, with a variety of civil and defence applications, into orbit.

They will be the first satellites launched into space from Europe.

In the past, satellites produced in the UK have needed to be sent to foreign spaceports to make their journey into space.

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Ian Annett, deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, said: “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.

“The development of new orbital launch capabilities is already generating growth, catalysing investment and creating jobs in Cornwall and other communities across the United Kingdom.

“This will lead to new careers, improved productivity and inspire the next generation of space professionals, and this is just the beginning.

“I look forward to seeing more launches from other UK spaceports over the next year, putting us firmly on the map as Europe’s leading destination for commercial small satellite launch.”

It was originally hoped the launch could take place before Christmas but due to technical and regulatory issues it had to be pushed into 2023.

On Thursday, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system successfully completed an end-to-end launch rehearsal.

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Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said: “After ensuring that every technical aspect is sound and every regulation and code has been satisfied, it is gratifying to see this historic endeavour on the verge of coming to fruition.

“This launch represents the opening of a new era in the British space industry and new partnerships across industry, government, and allies.”

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “This is a phenomenal moment with incredible international collaboration. Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency and all of our partners are breaking new ground to transform access to space across the world from right here in Cornwall.

“My team at Spaceport Cornwall have worked so hard to get this far and we wish everyone the best of luck as the launch window opens, we are ready.”