Spaceport Cornwall receives licence before first launch with Virgin Orbit


Spaceport Cornwall is set to host the first orbital launch from the UK in the coming weeks after receiving its license to operate from the country’s regulator.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket is expected to launch within the coming weeks. Spaceport Cornwall received delivery of LauncherOne, which is horizontally launched from a Boeing 737, last month.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority issued the license after the spaceport demonstrated it met the necessary safety, security and environmental requirements. The approval also means Spaceport Cornwall has the infrastructure, equipment and services for horizontal space launches.

Spaceport Cornwall based at Cornwall Airport Newquay is the first-ever licensed spaceport in the UK. The license enables Virgin Orbit to begin wet dress rehearsals ahead of a proposed launch, which will also be the first horizontal launch from European soil.

Virgin Orbit is a sister company to Virgin Galactic, which uses the same approach to launch a passenger-carrying space plane.

Both companies use an air-launch system, where instead of using a launch pad, a carrier aircraft carries a payload-carrying rocket to a high altitude and then launches it. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is a 70ft long, 57,000 lb (25,800kg) rocket designed to travel at speeds of up to 20 times the speed of sound (17,000mph) that can carry small satellites, such as communications and weather satellites of up to 660 lbs (300kg).

Virgin Orbit’s launch system can be transported to different sites and has carried out four successful launches so far.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall said, “To be the first spaceport in the UK with a license to operate is a historic moment. The regulatory environment created by the Civil Aviation Authority ensures that the UK launch will set the global bar in terms of responsibility and transparency.”

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit’s CEO said, “Obtaining this license marks a point of distinction for Spaceport Cornwall, and is a key preparatory milestone for this first orbital launch from the UK.”

As well as Virgin Orbit the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is processing several license applications for launch and satellite operators and is also progressing applications from other spaceports including a launch from  SaxaVord in Scotland.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has also licensed nearly 150 satellites since becoming the UK’s space regulator in July 2021.

Richard Moriarty, CEO of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said, This is a historic moment as we license the first-ever spaceport in the UK. When we became the space regulator, we committed to delivering in an open, effective and proportionate way, with public safety at its heart.

“Our work does not stop with this license decision as we continue to assess other license applications and oversee the effectiveness of licensed activities, all enabling the UK’s space sector to grow safely and securely.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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