UK’s MOD and US National Reconnaissance Office partner on Virgin Orbit UK launch

Virgin Orbit prepares for the Above the Clouds launch
Virgin Orbit
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
12 July 2022

Virgin Orbit will carry a joint mission between the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in its historic UK launch from Cornwall this year. It will be the first rocket launch from British soil – and the first commercial launch from Western Europe. 

In its first international launch, Virgin Orbit will send two satellites to Low-Earth Orbit, using the LauncherOne platform on Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 that used to fly for Virgin Atlantic. The Prometheus 2 CubeSats will provide a test platform to monitor radio signals, including GPS, and sophisticated imaging, expected to pave the way for a more collaborative and connected space communication system between allies. 

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

The mission’s objective is to allow the MOD to better understand how the UK and international partners can work together to create a more capable and flexible system at a lower cost than could be achieved alone. The technology on the satellites will help to identify new techniques and algorithms for operating satellites and data processing. 

The UK launch will be Virgin Orbit’s sixth mission carrying commercial and government customers since it began operations in 2021. It is working closely with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, the RAF and the Spaceport Cornwall team to make all necessary preparations for liftoff. 

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl on the ground with LauncherOne
Virgin Orbit

“This is a superb example of growing UK-US space cooperation,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “We believe the Cornwall mission will provide a demonstration of the flexibility and mobility of the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne platform. We are honored to support the UK on this, the first orbital launch in history from British soil. We look forward to continuing to support the NRO, the MOD, and allied counties as they form closer partnerships, drive innovation, and expand collaboration in space.” 

Virgin Orbit National Systems President Mark Baird added: “We could not be more excited to support our National Security Space and U.K. mission partners in this incredible, historic launch. We believe the ‘Anytime, Anywhere, Unwarned’ capability that we are driving to bring to the U.S. and our Allied partners is a game changer, and we are all in to make this a resounding success.” 

Virgin Orbit recently completed its fifth mission, Straight Up, launching seven satellites into space. 

Visit Virgin Orbit to find out more.