Virgin Orbit is bringing new orbital launch capabilities to the UK that will help expand the country’s space economy and accelerate satellite technology innovation.
Although Virgin Orbit is an American company, and our LauncherOne rockets are Made in the USA in Long Beach, California, Great Britain is home for the broader Virgin Group. It’s why the team is so proud to announce a new partnership with Spaceport Cornwall and the UK Space Agency to conduct the first ever flights to space from British soil.
Virgin Orbit revealed its plans to conduct orbital rocket launches from Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021. To reach space, Virgin Orbit has designed and built a one-of-a-kind air-launch platform that uses a modified former-Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 aircraft aptly named Cosmic Girl. Cosmic Girl carries a LauncherOne rocket under her left wing, and deploys the rocket around cruising altitude before it jettisons off to space with a customer’s small satellite tucked away in its fairing.
Air-launch comes with a number of benefits over the typical vertical launch you’re probably used to seeing. Most notably, it gives Virgin Orbit the freedom to bypass the traffic jam headaches at established launch ranges. Plus, the team can kick off launches from the UK relatively quickly, since most modern airports like Newquay are already equipped to support the system. There’s no need to spend tens of millions and a decade or more building out a brand new launch pad.
Once this project is up and running, Spaceport Cornwall will be the only place in the world where launches to space and passenger airline services operate side by side. If that’s not a perfect example of how quickly space is being commercialised, we don’t know what is!
The economic value also can’t be understated. Spaceport Cornwall predicts the new launch capability will create almost 500 new jobs in Cornwall and add £25m to the local economy over the next 10 years.
All in all, a big win for Virgin Orbit, for the UK, and for the space industry as a whole!