Aerospace sector counting down to LauncherOne lift off – The first spacecraft launch from UK

Aerospace sector counting down to LauncherOne lift off – The first spacecraft launch from UK

Virgin Orbit’s rocket, LauncherOne, is set to become the first spacecraft to lift off from the UK when it departs from Spaceport Cornwall in November.

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Having been built in the US the rocket was transferred to Cornwall on board, rather outboard – strapped as it was, to an adapted Boeing 747, ‘Cosmic Girl’ earlier this month.

In further good news for the UK aerospace industry, the UK government have announced a £15 million investment fund for the satellite communication sector.

LauncherOne is funded by the UK Space Agency which is based in Swindon. Named ‘Start Me Up’ the mission will deliver a total of seven payloads into low Earth orbit.

While Spaceport Cornwall will become the epicentre of the UK space sector for the nations first launch, seven UK spaceports are under development. Almost 50,000 people are employed in the sector nationwide. It is estimated the Cornwall site will create 150 jobs when fully operational.

The Virgin Orbit team are finalising the specifics of the horizontal launch in liaison with Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Royal Air Force (RAF), and Spaceport Cornwall.

LauncherOne will take to the sky, at first ferried by Cosmic Girl to an altitude of approximately 35,000 ft where the rocket will deploy.

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said: “What an incredible honor it is for us to be part of something as monumental as bringing Britain into the business of launch.

“Working with our partners across the UK government, we’re starting up a new capability that will serve the people, the economy, and the security of the UK.”

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall: “It’s been an incredible time at Spaceport Cornwall, and the arrival of LauncherOne is the cherry on top.

“Seeing the infrastructure in place makes our launch ambitions a reality. We cannot wait to see the rocket take to the skies soon, carrying Earth-benefitting satellite technology into Low Earth Orbit.”

Such is the excitement at, what is also the first commercial launch, from Europe, a full scale replica of LauncherOne is also creating a stir in London. The 22m replica was put on display outside the National Science Museum to highlight the achievements of the UK space industry.

Payload aboard Start Me Up, features the first ever satellite launched by the Sultanate of Oman focused on Earth Observation; future-facing return satellite tech aboard Wales’ first satellite, built by Space Forge; a Maritime monitoring payload built by Horizon Technologies and the Satellite Applications Catapult; as well satellites from the MOD, DSTL and US National Reconnaissance Office.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, said: “Our work to establish launch capabilities in the UK is already bringing new growth through investment and jobs into local communities, and inspiring a new generation of space professionals whether in science, engineering, law and other disciplines.”

A report conducted by Technopolis and released this week, ‘The Impact Evaluation of UK Investment in the European Space Agency’ concluded that each £1 invested returns £11.80 to the UK economy. The UK agreed to invest £374 million per year for five years to ESA in 2019.

UK Space Agency Deputy CEO Ian Annett, Squadron Leader Mathew Stannard Chief Pilot Virgin Orbit, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, Science Minister Nusrat Ghani, UK Space Agency Director of Commercial Spaceflight Matt Archer, Felicity Buchan MP for Kensington, Dr Julia Knights Deputy Director of the Science Museum and Councillor Emma Will, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Credit: UK Space Agency

Upon release of the report, Science Minister Nusrat Ghani announced a new UK investment fund of £15million for the satellite communication sector. The funds will, confirmed the Minister, be distributed by Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to those companies developing ambitious satellite tech which prioritise customer needs, support sustainable growth and catalyse further investment.

The Minister stated: “I want to harness opportunities in space to grow the UK economy, create jobs and inspire young people into STEM careers.

“We’re also making new funding available now to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in the satellite communications market, and I look forward to seeing the results of the competition.”

Main image LauncherOne and ‘Cosmic Girl’ Image credit Virgin Orbit

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