The significance for the UK, beyond the good news for Glasgow-based Spire Global which had one of the seven satellites in the payload (its ADLER-1), is that it potentially brings a UK satellite launch one step closer. Spaceport Cornwall is hoping Virgin Orbit will launch a payload from the UK in a similar manner.
It means that among those welcoming the success of the launch was the UK Space Agency (UKSA).
“Congratulations to Virgin Orbit on another successful mission, which demonstrates the huge potential of innovative, air-launch technology to meet the needs of the modern satellite industry,” said the UKSA’s Deputy CEO, Ian Annett. “Having an RAF pilot at the controls demonstrates the UK’s commitment to working closely with Virgin Orbit ahead of their first launch from Spaceport Cornwall later this year.”
The agency pointed out that Glasgow-based Spire Global – which saw one of its satellites launched from Mojave Air and Space Port in California – built its technology in the UK but then had to ship it across the world to America.
“The UK is home to some of the world’s leading satellite manufacturers, which currently ship their products overseas for launch. We are supporting them by fostering a new domestic launch market, with spaceports and launch operators providing services across the UK and catalysing investment from all over the world.”
The UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council are financially supporting Virgin Orbit to operate from Newquay, with launches hoped to begin this summer. They believe the spaceport is set to create 150 jobs in the local area.
The plane, Cosmic Girl, was flown by Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard, a Royal Air Force pilot on secondment with Virgin Orbit. It is pictured above, along with a LauncherOne rocket.
As Cosmic Girl makes it out to the drop point, check out the flight profile as #LauncherOne travels to orbit. pic.twitter.com/WJ0tLhYo05
— Virgin Orbit (@VirginOrbit) January 13, 2022
UK horizontal launches
Cornwall is not the only UK site looking to support such horizontal launches, as provided by Virgin Orbit.
We reported recently on Prestwick Spaceport’s progress towards horizontal launches in 2023, for small satellites such as CubeSats.
For these launches the payload is launched by rocket mid-air from an aircraft – at a suitable altitude over a body of water – which in turn means traditional airport infrastructure can be used. The launches are also less vulnerable to adverse conditions.
In this instance, Virgin Orbit described the launch:
“[Cosmic Girl] flew to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket ignited and propelled itself towards space, ultimately deploying its payload into a precise target orbit approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface at 45 degrees inclination. This is the first time that anyone has reached this orbit from the West Coast.”
It was the company’s third successful flight, within one year from its first mission.
“It’s a thrill for our team that this mission included our first repeat customers as well as our first ‘last minute ticket’ customers and reached an orbit that no one had ever reached from the West Coast before, all of which confirms the team’s ability to provide top tier launch service anywhere, anytime,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “On top of that, we flew through weather and a cloud layer that would have grounded any other launch I’ve worked on in my career, something only made possible by air-launch and our incredible team.”
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