Britain’s first rocket launch from a spaceport in Cornwall has had its launch date pushed back to November as it awaits approval from UK regulators.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit was previously due to launch a rocket from Newquay’s Spaceport Cornwall in September, but The Telegraph has learned launch partners have been told the first rocket may not lift off until November.
The mission has still not been given the green light by the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates UK rocket launches.
Spaceport executives had originally hoped that a launch during the summer would coincide with the Jubilee.
The historic launch would be the first orbital mission from British soil and comes 50 years after a British-made rocket, Black Arrow, last reached space.
A Virgin Orbit spokesperson said the company still expects to complete the launch by the end of December, within the proposed launch window.
Previous regulatory filings had cited September 29 as the “primary date” for a launch.
A Virgin Orbit spokesperson said: “Virgin Orbit continues to work through our regular launch operations in time with mission needs in excited anticipation of a major industry milestone: the first-ever launch. space from the UK.
“Virgin Orbit’s launch readiness remains on track, and there have been no recent changes to the planned launch date window.
“We continue to work with our excellent mission partners at CAA, Spaceport Cornwall and UK Space Agency as well as our customers to ensure we stay on track for the fourth quarter launch we have planned.”
Virgin Orbit plans to fly a modified Boeing 747, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, from the converted Newquay airstrip above the Atlantic Ocean at a height of 37,000ft, before firing its LauncherOne rocket under its wing which then explodes into space.
Sir Richard’s rocket company is planning more than a dozen launches from Spaceport Cornwall over the next decade. Since its rockets are dropped under the wing of a converted commercial airliner, they can use conventional runways as their base of operations.
Delays in rocket launches are not uncommon due to weather impacts and regulatory bureaucracy. Although it has flown four successful rocket missions, Virgin Orbit’s scheduled July launch from Mojave Spaceport in California was postponed for three days due to coolant temperature issues in its rocket.
The company is planning several launches over the next few months in an increasingly tight schedule in addition to the Cornwall launch, including three more from Mojave in California.
The Cornish mission will launch satellites for the UK Ministry of Defence, orbital factory company Space Forge and data satellites from Oxford start-up Open Cosmos.
On Wednesday, Open Cosmos said the UK mission would be part of its plans to launch 25 data-gathering satellites. Its satellites will provide Earth observation technology to governments and agencies to monitor natural disasters, climate change and activities such as illegal mining and deforestation from space.
The creation of a sovereign rocket capability for the UK was hailed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year as part of plans to create a ‘galactic Britain’ and boost industry £16 billion British Space Agency. Rival efforts at Cornwall Spaceport are underway in Scotland and the Shetland Islands.
Separately, Elon Musk said he was seeking an exemption from US sanctions to bring Starlink’s satellite broadband service to Iran.
In response to a question about Starlink’s launch in Iran on Twitter, Musk said: “Starlink will seek an exemption from Iranian sanctions in this regard.”
Starlink launches a network of thousands of satellites to provide broadband to remote areas and already has 3,000 satellites in orbit.