Start Me Up: How to spot the first rocket launch from UK soil

The first orbital rocket launch from UK soil is almost upon us - and you won't have to be right on site to see it for yourself.

In fact, you won't even have to be in the country.

When LauncherOne blasts off into space on Monday 9 January, carried skyward from Spaceport Cornwall by the fabulously named Cosmic Girl, it will be visible across the UK, Ireland, and parts of France, Portugal, and Spain.

Maps released by Virgin Orbit, the launch operator, show when and where eagle-eyed space enthusiasts in each country can expect to see it in the sky following the launch window opening at 10.16pm.

The path of the 21m (69ft) rocket from the point it is released from Cosmic Girl (an old Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747) is shown in blue, with the circles on the line depicting its approximate location at each minute along the way.

Virgin Orbit says people in the UK and Ireland should be able to see LauncherOne within 60 seconds of ignition, while coastal regions in France, Portugal, and Spain will get a good view within two to three minutes.

The entire launch phase is estimated to last approximately 10 minutes.

How will the launch work?

The key thing to realise about this launch is that it's not going to remind you of a classic NASA spectacle, with some huge spacecraft launching vertically into the atmosphere.

Given Cosmic Girl is an old Boeing 747, the view from Spaceport Cornwall will not look dissimilar to any other plane taking off when it takes to the sky under the cover of night.

Under its left wing is LauncherOne, which will be released at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean before accelerating to 8,000mph on its mission to deploy seven satellites into orbit.

Read more:
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What is the aim of the mission?

Among the satellites on board are a prototype orbiting factory for making high-value alloys and semiconductors, while another will join a constellation monitoring illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism.

It forms part of the government's National Space Strategy, which sets out how the UK will become the first country in Europe to launch satellites into orbit.

Make no mistake, this is a huge moment for the UK's space programme.

While the likes of Helen Sharman, who became the first Briton in space in 1989, and Tim Peake, who performed a historic spacewalk 27 years later, have flown the flag for the UK among the stars, never before has a rocket been launched into space from the UK.

The UK has only ever completed one orbital launch, the Black Arrow in 1971, and that actually took off in Australia.

After technical issues saw the LauncherOne's mission miss its pre-Christmas target, this should prove a fine way to kick off what's set to be a big year for Britain in space.