UK historic space launch: When is it, where is it going, how can I watch?

The first-ever orbital space launch from the UK will take off today.

On Monday (January 9), a modified 747 jumbo jet will launch a rocket over the Atlantic to take nine satellites high above the Earth, as part of The Virgin Orbit: Start Me Up mission.

If it is successful, it will be a significant turning point for UKspace, heralding the emergence of a domestic launch sector.

And it is named Start Me Up in tribute to a song by the Rolling Stones, featured on the 1981 album Tattoo You.

When is the UK space launch?

The operation begins at Newquay Airport in Cornwall just before midnight GMT.

Due to its pre-existing infrastructure, Cornwall Airport Newquay was chosen as the location for Spaceport Cornwall. The airport also features one of the UK's longest regional airport runways and direct access to an Atlantic flight path and has a low civilian population within the surrounding area.

An American company, called Virgin Orbit, is being used for the launch.

It was founded by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who has had one of his old passenger airliners converted to carry a rocket, called LauncherOne, beneath its left wing.

Virgin Orbit, normally situated in Long Beach, California, has launched four rockets over the Pacific Ocean successfully in a row so far. The Mojave Air and Space Port, located north of Los Angeles, served as the launchpad for the flights.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

Where is it going?

The 747, also known as Cosmic Girl, will depart from Newquay and travel west across the Atlantic Ocean to a predetermined launch area just off the coast of the Irish counties of Kerry and Cork.

The Virgin plane will let go of the rocket at the proper time and altitude of 35,000 feet, at which point the rocket's first-stage engine will fire to start the ascent to orbit.

Nine tiny satellites will be launched if everything goes according to plan and placed in an orbit more than 500 kilometers above the Earth.

They are used for both civilian and military purposes, and their applications range from ocean monitoring to navigational technology.

Cardiff-based Space Forge is the owner of one of the tiny satellites. The company seeks to produce new, valuable materials and components in space using satellites.

Deenah Sanchez, the launch director, told BBC News that it will be a complex operation.

“We basically have three different launch systems out there,” she said.

“We have our ground hardware, we have an entire aeroplane, and a rocket, and so we have people that specialise in each area here in the control room.”

How can I watch the UK space launch?

People across the UK will be able to watch the launch in real-time alongside fans across the globe by tuning in to Virgin Orbit's YouTube account in addition to the live launch stream that will be aired at Spaceport Cornwall throughout the entire evening.

Coverage will begin at 9pm UK time on Monday, January 9, 2023.

Here are the current timings for the launch viewing event:

7pm: Members of the public who have booked tickets to attend in person will begin arriving on site

10.16pm to 11.16pm: Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl will take off horizontally, carrying the rocket

10.54pm to 11.54pm: The rocket will be released

Midnight to 1am Tuesday, January 10: Cosmic Girl will return to base

1.15am to 1.30pm Tuesday, January 10: Confirmation of the separation of the satellite from the rocket