Virgin Orbit issued licences ahead of Cornwall space launch
The final remaining licences required for Virgin Orbit to launch from Spaceport Cornwall have been issued by the UK space regulator.
The Civil Aviation Authority has granted the launch operator and range control licences, which have been signed off by the Transport Secretary.
The CAA said it was “another major milestone” towards the first orbital space launch from UK soil.
A launch from the spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay is expected in January.
Earlier in December the launch was pushed back due to technical issues.
Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 has been at Spaceport Cornwall since October, followed a week later by their LauncherOne rocket that will carry nine satellites.
The CAA said the company had “taken all reasonable steps to ensure safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable”.
Tim Johnson, director for space regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “This is another major milestone in enabling the very first orbital space launch from UK shores and these licences will assist Virgin Orbit with their final preparations for launch.”
Spaceport Cornwall was granted an operating licence by the CAA in November.
Each of the nine satellites also requires a licence, but these are understood to be imminent.
Analysis by Jon Amos, BBC Science Correspondent
It’s been a complex business pulling together all the regulatory threads for this licence.
Demonstrating its rocket system is safe has been paramount of course, but Virgin has also had to pass environmental as well as fit and proper person tests.
In addition, the location of the upcoming launch, out over the Atlantic, has required the agreement and co-ordination of the Irish, Spanish and Portuguese governments.
The nod from Dublin was complicated in recent weeks by the changeover of prime minister, or Taoiseach.
The CAA has kept its promise, however, to process a rocket licence application in under 18 months.
We were expecting a launch on 14 December, but this was pushed back when Virgin Orbit discovered a technical issue on one of its Newton rocket engines during testing in California.
This demanded further inspection and assessment of the rocket already delivered to Newquay for the Cornwall launch.
Once the company is satisfied it’s ready, a further notice to aircraft and mariners will be issued to warn them of the activity that’s coming, expected for sometime in January.
Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, said the licencing decision “takes us one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil”.
He said: “This is a major milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of an enormous effort, which has included the construction of new regulations, new processes and new teams.”
A specific date for the launch has not yet been set.
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “We are thrilled for the Virgin Orbit licenses to be in place for this historic launch.
“It has been an incredible effort by all partners to reach this milestone, and my team cannot wait to share in the excitement of the upcoming launch with everyone that has made it happen.”