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Virgin Orbit delays first launch at Spaceport Cornwall due to ‘technical’ issues

Spaceport Cornwall launch delay
Image credit: Spaceport Cornwall

The first launch from Spaceport Cornwall has been delayed until next year after Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit cancelled a flight planned for next Wednesday.

Virgin Orbit is yet to secure a licence for the launch and must conduct “additional technical work” before it can launch its altered Boeing 747 into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Based at Cornwall Airport Newquay, Spaceport Cornwall only received its launch licence last month from the Civil Aviation Authority, paving the way for horizontal space launches.

But now the country must wait a little longer for its first orbital flight from British soil.

In a statement, Virgin Orbit said: “With licences still outstanding for the launch itself and for the satellites within the payload, additional technical work needed to establish system health and readiness, and a very limited available launch window of only two days, we have determined that it is prudent to retarget launch for the coming weeks to allow ourselves and our stakeholders time to pave the way for full mission success.”

Virgin Orbit is competing with the likes of SpaceX to send small commercial satellites into Earth orbit. However, where SpaceX uses reusable rockets that take off vertically from a launchpad, Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 to carry a rocket 10,000km above sea level before the payload detaches and continues its journey to orbit.

“Virgin Orbit has said in its statement this morning that there are some technical issues that will need to be resolved before launch. These in no way relate to the timing of when a licence will be issued by the Civil Aviation Authority,” said Tim Johnson, director for Space Regulation, Civil Aviation Authority.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall said: “Nobody ever said space was easy! We stand with our partners in UK Launch and with our friends at Virgin Orbit as we work with passion and commitment towards our first launch.”

This year has been one of slow but building momentum for the UK’s space industry, with various spaceports cropping up around the country, including one in Sutherland.