Plane prepares to take off for first UK satellite launch
January 9, 2023 By The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Engineers are making final preparations for the first satellite launch from the U.K. later Monday, when a repurposed passenger plane is expected to release a Virgin Orbit rocket carrying several small satellites into space.
If successful, the mission will mark the first orbital space launch from U.K. soil and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson. The company, which is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, has already completed four similar launches from the U.S.
The latest mission will see a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft carrying a rocket take off from Cornwall in southwestern England from around 10:15 p.m. (2215 GMT; 5:15 p.m. EST) on Monday. Around an hour into the flight, the plane will release the rocket at 35,000 feet (around 10,000 meters) over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.
The rocket will then take several small satellites for mixed civil and defense use into orbit, while the plane returns to Cornwall.
It will be the first commercial satellite launch from Western Europe, Virgin Orbit said. In the past, satellites produced in the U.K. had to be sent to spaceports in other countries to make their journey into space.
Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the U.K. Space Agency, described his “immense excitement” Sunday and said it was “a new era for space in the U.K.”
The mission is a collaboration between the U.K. Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, Virgin Orbit and Cornwall Council.
The launch was originally planned for late last year, but it was postponed because of technical and regulatory issues.