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Cardiff company’s satellite set to be sent into orbit from Cornwall as Virgin secures licences for UK’s first space launch

21 Dec 2022 4 minute read
Virgin Orbit picture by Österreichisches Weltraum Forum (CC BY-SA 4.0).

A satellite by a Cardiff company is set to be sent into orbit in the next few weeks after Virgin Orbit was awarded licences to operate the UK’s first space launch.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s company demonstrated it has “taken all reasonable steps to ensure safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable”.

Virgin Orbit is planning a launch from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport Newquay in the coming weeks.

Among the cargo launched into space will be a satellite from Cardiff company SpaceForge, who are testing to see whether reusable satellites that can manufacture technology in space can be launched into orbit and then return to earth when they are no longer useful.

Spaceport Cornwall is one of seven spaceports being developed across Britain, with another in the works at Llanbedr, Gwynedd.

Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart said: “Receiving Virgin Orbit’s range and launch licences takes us one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil.

“This is a major milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of an enormous effort, which has included the construction of new regulations, new processes and new teams.

“With our partners at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Spaceport Cornwall, UK Space Agency and our payload customers, together we are progressing towards the first launch from Cornwall – keeping a strong focus on a safe and successful mission for all.”

‘Milestone’

Virgin Orbit is planning a launch from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport Newquay in the coming weeks.

The mission named Start Me Up in tribute to rock band The Rolling Stones will involve a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

The 747 will take off horizontally from the new facility at Cornwall Airport Newquay while carrying the rocket, before releasing it at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.

The plane will return to the spaceport, while the rocket will ignite its engine and take multiple small satellites into orbit with a variety of civil and defence applications.

They will be the first satellites launched into space from Europe, with satellites produced in the UK previously needing to be sent to spaceports outside the continent to get them into space.

CAA director for space regulation Tim Johnson said: “This is another major milestone in enabling the very first orbital space launch from UK shores, and these licences will assist Virgin Orbit with their final preparations for launch.

“Effective licensing forms an integral part of UK space activity, and with public safety at the heart of our decision making we’ve worked with Virgin Orbit to assess their applications and issue licences within our expected timelines.”

Satellite picture by Space Forge

‘Jobs’

Speaking earlier this year Joshua Western, CEO of Cardiff-based Space Forge, said they were “thrilled to be making UK history with our first launch”.

“We will demonstrate the use of space for good through in-space manufacturing and reliable return and it’s brilliant that both Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall share our ambitions,” he said.

“This is the start of a great collaboration and we are so excited to see where it goes.”

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said they were “delighted to have been chosen to move Space Forge forward in their space journey”.

“Space Forge is joining the growing community of space innovators advancing space technologies for the betterment of our world.

“Their commitment to sustainability builds a foundation for future growth in the industry that we at Virgin Orbit are proud to be part of.”

UK Government Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today we are one step closer to opening the UK’s galactic gateway, with Virgin Orbit receiving a historic first licence to allow the UK’s first ever spaceflight launch.

“The planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”

The CAA said it awarded the licences within 15 months of receiving evidence from Virgin Orbit about its plans.

The regulator’s estimated time for delivering spaceflight licences is between nine and 18 months.


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Philip Davies
Philip Davies
1 month ago

Great interest and serious investment has already been made in the proposed Llanberis Spaceport. There is an important rocket-launching Government establishment, now part-privatised, at Aberporth, where formerly Blue Streak and other British rockets and missiles were tested. Strangely, this latter site was not even considered. And despite far-advanced planning for the Llanberis site, this has still not been progressed. Naturally, our Senedd, dedicated as it is to slowing the whole of Wales to a crawl with it’s ridiculous blanket 20 mph speed limit on most of our roads, has not shown the same energetic ambition as our Cornish cousins in… Read more »

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