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Virgin Orbit to launch its first UK satellite from Cornwall

Virgin Orbit Cornwall

Richard Branson’s satellite launch company Virgin Orbit has said it will have its first international launch from Spaceport Cornwall later this year.

The launch will follow in the footsteps of Virgin Orbit’s fourth mission “Straight Up”, which launched from Mojave, California on Saturday

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.

Matthew Archer, director, commercial spaceflight, UK Space Agency, said: “The UK is home to some of the world’s leading satellite manufacturers, which currently ship their products overseas for launch.”

Archer added: “We are supporting them by fostering a new domestic launch market, with spaceports and launch operators providing services across the UK and catalysing investment from all over the world.”

Customers of the UK launch include Space Forge, Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the US National Reconnaissance Office.

“The success of this last launch in California is extremely rewarding for Spaceport Cornwall and the UK space sector,” said Melissa Thorpe, head, Spaceport Cornwall.

“It was amazing to see both the team from Virgin Orbit and our team working together to mirror the US operations in real-time – ensuring we’re mission-ready for the summer,” said Melissa Thorpe, head, Spaceport Cornwall.

Virgin will also work in collaboration with The UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council.

The launch plays a part in the Government’s National Space Strategy, which aims for the UK to be the first country in Europe to launch satellites into orbit in 2022.

Spaceport Cornwall is expected to create 150 jobs in the area and is the latest vote of confidence in the UK’s small but growing space industry.

In June, former SpaceX executive Lee Rosen join Edinburgh-based rocket company Skyrora as its chief operations officer.

Edinburgh-headquartered Earth Blox recently landed £1.5m to develop its satellite software.

Image credit: Virgin Orbit / Dae Dae