RAF C-17 delivers rocket ahead of first UK space launch

Ahead of the first launch from UK soil, Virgin Orbit’s converted Boeing 747 launch vehicle ‘Cosmic Girl’ this week touched down at Spaceport Cornwall, Cornwall Airport Newquay.

In addition, the C-17 carrying the rocket to be launched by the 747 also landed.

Cosmic Girl will carry seven payloads into Lower Earth Orbit from Cornwall via the LauncherOne rocket on the aptly named “Start Me Up” mission; Virgin Orbit’s first international launch.

The missions of these satellites span a wide range of activities aimed at improving life on planet Earth, including reducing the environmental impact of production, preventing illegal trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism; and a host of national security functions.

This week payloads have begun integration into Virgin Orbit’s launch system from the state-of-the-art Space Systems Integration Facility, the recent opening of which heralded a new era of capability within UK small satellite services.

Virgin Orbit has been working closely with the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the Spaceport Cornwall team to make all necessary preparations for lift-off.

Squadron Leader Matthew Stannard, Chief Pilot, Virgin Orbit, was quoted as saying:

“It feels amazing to bring Cosmic Girl home to the UK. We are weeks away now from the first UK launch at Spaceport Cornwall so it’s all very real, I’m really excited to be here with the Virgin Orbit team.”

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall welcomed Cosmic Girl to Spaceport Cornwall said:

“This is the moment we have been waiting eight years for and my team could not be more excited to welcome Cosmic Girl to the UK. A converted 747 using a converted airport to get to space is a perfect example of what we are working to achieve at Spaceport Cornwall. By making use of existing assets we want to set the bar for responsible launch – Starting Up launch in the UK with ‘Space For Good’ at its core.”

Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said:

“Watching a 747 land is always impressive, but everyone had goosebumps as Cosmic Girl touched down on the runway at Spaceport Cornwall for the first time. We are now a matter of weeks away from launch and, while the excitement is building, teams on the ground continue to work hard on the preparations. More equipment, including the rocket, will arrive in the coming days and the delicate task of integrating the satellites will begin. We have never done this before in the UK, it is a complex and technically challenging endeavour, and I’m confident in the capabilities of our partners at Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall to deliver a successful mission.”

The launch is on track for November.

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