British-built satellite completes line-up for Virgin Orbit’s first UK launch

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl in flight
Virgin Orbit
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
21 July 2022

Virgin Orbit is preparing for its next launch – a very exciting one, the first ever space launch from the UK – and more details have been released about the satellites it will be sending into space.

The latest satellite to be added to the list is a new research satellite from international engineering firm RHEA Group. Named ‘DOVER’, it was built by Oxfordshire space company Open Cosmos and will join five other satellites on Virgin Orbit’s mission, including the first ever satellite to be built in Wales.

The DOVER pathfinder satellite will transmit an innovative new signal, specially designed by engineers at RHEA, to provide data from space that can be used to obtain a position or an accurate time. It will broadcast these new signals so that their performance can be tested as part of the research project.

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl soars through the sky in the Above The Clouds mission
Virgin Orbit

Emma Jones, RHEA’s UK business director, said: “This is a momentous event for RHEA. This year we are celebrating our 30th anniversary and it is a great milestone to launch our first ever satellite in the same year. The UK is in the very desirable position of establishing a number of spaceports, and it is thrilling to have a RHEA satellite on board the first launch to take off from UK soil.”

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, added: “We’re very pleased to have been selected by RHEA Group and Open Cosmos for their first joint mission. The DOVER satellite, designed and built in the UK by Open Cosmos, co-funded by the European Space Agency, and now will be launched from Cornwall, is a great example of the power that comes with the infusion of space collaboration taking place across the globe.

“The work RHEA will do with their DOVER satellite will help to assure reliable navigation, which touches all of us and can be vital for everything from environmentally efficient shipping to national security.”

Virgin Orbit's June 2021 space mission - Tubular Bells: Part One
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit will launch DOVER, along with satellites from organisations including Space Forge, the Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, as well as the Prometheus-2 research demonstration satellites, from Spaceport Cornwall later this year. Pometheus-2 was co-funded and designed with Airbus Defence and Space and assembled by In-Space Mission, as part of a collaboration between the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and international partners, including the US National Reconnaissance Office.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “We’re thrilled to have ‘DOVER’ complete the line-up of satellites onboard Virgin Orbit’s first launch from Cornwall. Each payload highlights the innovation happening within the small satellite industry, and how it can benefit life on earth, while showcasing the growing collaboration between UK Space and international partners.

“This is another great moment in the countdown to launch from Cornwall.”

The launch

During the launch mission, Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, will take off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall, carrying the LauncherOne rocket beneath its wing. The plane will fly out over the ocean before blasting the rocket into space, delivering satellites into orbit around the Earth. In the cockpit will be Squadron Leader, Matthew ‘Stanny’ Stannard, an RAF Test Pilot currently on secondment as one of Virgin Orbit’s pilots.

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl adapted Boeing 747 rocket launcher from below

This will be the first satellite launch from UK and Virgin Orbit’s first mission outside of the US. It follows the successful ‘Straight Up’ mission that delivered seven satellites into space from Mojave in California on Saturday 2 July.

Visit Virgin Orbit to find out more.