Virgin Orbit targets first-ever orbital launch from UK soil this summer

Hot on the heels of a third consecutive successful launch from California earlier this year, Virgin Orbit plans to expand takeoffs to the UK.

The company aims to launch for the first time this summer from Spaceport Cornwall in the west of the UK, Virgin Orbit announced on Wednesday (March 9).

The mission will set up a satellite for Space Forge, a Wales-based space manufacturing startup. The next flight will be the first orbital mission ever launched from the UK and the first to carry a satellite developed in Wales, the companies said.

In picture : Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket for satellite missions

“We are delighted to make UK history with our first launch,” Space Forge CEO Joshua Western said in a statement. Wednesday statement. Space Forge wants to test a new mini space manufacturing plant called ForgeStar, which (when operational) will seek to return products made in space to Earth.

“We will demonstrate the use of space in earnest through in-space manufacturing and reliable return, and it’s great that Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall share our ambitions,” said Western. “It’s the start of a great collaboration, and we’re excited to see where it will take us.”

Virgin Orbit launches using a modified Boeing 747 carrier plane called Cosmic Girl, which carries a rocket called LauncherOne under its wing to deploy satellites into space.

Virgin Orbit says the 70-foot-long (21-meter) LauncherOne, which can launch up to 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) per mission, has an advantage over traditional vertical-launch rockets because air-launched missions are more responsive and flexible.

Virgin Orbit is part of the same group as space tourism provider Virgin Galactic; both companies are owned by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Virgin Orbit’s first orbital test launch in May 2020 failed after a fuel line burst in the rocket’s first stage. The company has recovered to post three consecutive successful launches in 2021 and 2022.

In January, Virgin Orbit announced plans to launch five more missions in 2022, including two from Spaceport Cornwall. The other three will take off from Mojave Air and Space Port, the take-off point for all Virgin Orbit missions to date.

“The Cornwall launches are targeted towards the middle of the year – summer,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said on a Jan. 11 media call.

“It depends on whether the licensing process is successful and some of the logistics, but that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “And [the first Cornwall flight] will be the first launch from British soil and the first [orbital] ever launched from European space.”

Virgin Orbit is also looking for other locations to launch from. Early possibilities could include Guam, Japan and Brazil, with longer-term opportunities potentially in play in Australia and “several European countries, as well as countries in other regions”, Hart added.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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