Virgin Orbit secures licenses for UK’s first space launch

Virgin Orbit is licensed to operate the UK’s first space launch.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has demonstrated that his company “has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the 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.

Named Start Me Up, a tribute to rock band The Rolling Stones, the mission will include a redesigned Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

While carrying the rocket, the 747 will take off horizontally from the new facility at Cornwall’s Newquay Airport and then drop it at 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean in southern Ireland.

As the aircraft makes its way back to the spaceport, it will fire its rocket engine and bring numerous small satellites into orbit with a variety of civil and defense applications.

They will be the first satellites launched from Europe into space.

Satellites manufactured in the UK previously had to be sent to foreign spaceports to be taken into space.

Tim Johnson, CAA director of space regulation said: “This is another important milestone in achieving the first orbital space launch from the UK coast and these licenses will assist Virgin Orbit in its final preparations for the launch.

“Effective licensing is an integral part of the UK space business and with public safety at the center of our decision-making process, we have worked with Virgin Orbit to evaluate their applications and issue licenses within our expected timeline.”

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said: “Getting the range and launch licenses for Virgin Orbit brings us one step closer to the first satellite launch from UK soil.

“This represents an important milestone for CAA and the successful completion of an enormous effort that includes the creation of new regulations, new processes and new teams.

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

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

“The planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of space flight, which could create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships, as well as foster growth and innovation across the industry.”

The CAA said it granted the licenses within 15 months of receiving proof of its plans from Virgin Orbit.

The organizer’s estimated time to deliver spaceflight licenses is between nine and 18 months.

Cornwall Spaceport is one of seven spaceports under development in Britain.

The first vertical space launch is expected next year from the planned SaxaVord Space Station at Unst in Shetland.

A public consultation on the environmental impacts of the spaceport was initiated by the CAA last month.

The locations of four other proposed spaceports in Scotland are: the A’ Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland; Prestwick in South Ayrshire; Campbeltown in Argyll and Bute; and Northern Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

Another spaceport is planned at Llanbedr, Gwynedd, in North Wales.

The government hopes commercial space launches will be worth £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.

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