Virgin Orbit supports UK/US joint mission aboard UK’s first ever space mission

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl soars through the sky in the Above The Clouds mission
Virgin Orbit
Kami White
by Kami White
13 June 2022

Virgin Orbit has announced a joint mission between the United Kingdom’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The mission is expected to join the launch from Spaceport Cornwall later this year, which will mark the UK’s first ever space launch.

The aim of the mission is to measure the ionosphere and radiation environment from multiple vantage points – which will be achieved by two 6U CubeSats flying in a tandem formation from low Earth orbit. The mission will support the two countries’ joint development of a wide range of civil and defense applications, including GPS, radar, communication systems, and sensing technology.

The joint development is called the Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment (CIRCE) and is supported by the US Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP), organised under the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC).

Here’s a quick recap of how Virgin Orbit’s rocket launches work, and how the small satellite revolution is opening up space for good:

Virgin Orbit Origins Film

On this mission from Spaceport Cornwall, CIRCE will fly alongside a range of other impressive academic, government and commercial customers from all over the world. Some of the other satellites on-board include the first ever Welsh-built satellite, an earth observation satellite, and the Kingdom of Oman’s first satellite too.

Upon announcing the flight, Virgin Orbit’s CEO Dan Hart said: “We are honoured to host this joint mission between the US and UK governments on the launch from Cornwall. This demonstration, chosen to fly on the United Kingdom’s first space launch from its territory, exhibits the powerful value of collaboration between our two countries and their mutual commitment to delivering the full value of space access for all.”

Dr. Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, added: “The CIRCE space weather experiment will join a host of small satellites on board Virgin Orbit’s first launch from the UK, and it’s exciting to see the wide range of commercial, academic and government partners who will share this moment with us. We are on track to meet our ambition of becoming the first country to offer commercial launch services from Europe, catalysing investment into our growing space sector and creating hundreds of new jobs. I can’t wait to see Cosmic Girl take to the skies above Spaceport Cornwall later this year.”

Virgin Orbit's orbital launch subsidiary flying over Cornwall
Spaceport Cornwall

While the mission will mark Virgin Orbit’s first overseas flight, it is expected to be Virgin Orbit’s fifth consecutive mission since beginning operations in 2021. The other missions have launched from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. From this site, Virgin Orbit has also launched eight previous STP (Space Test Program) satellites to orbit, which demonstrates its unique and innovative ability to launch from any airport with a spaceport certificate.

Virgin Orbit is currently preparing for its next launch, Straight Up, which is expected to launch no earlier than 29 June.