After some tension over a delayed launch of the first satellite to be launched from UK soil – or indeed anywhere in western Europe – UK regulators have confirmed they have granted all the licenses needed for Virgin Orbit to operate to use a rocket for the horizontal Launch of a modified Boeing 747 from Spaceport Cornwall.
The mission, originally scheduled to launch on December 14, is scheduled to launch in the “coming weeks” from Spaceport Cornwall, which operates out of Cornwall Newquay Airport. The modified jumbo jet will carry its LauncherOne rocket with a payload of nine satellites, which will then be flown and dropped at a designated launch site over the Atlantic.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had granted the licenses “in 15 months and put the UK framework on a competitive footing with international space agencies” and said the “last remaining” paperwork had been issued to Virgin Orbit.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today we are one step closer to opening Britain’s galactic gateway as Virgin Orbit receives a historic first license to enable Britain’s first ever spaceflight.”
Earlier this month, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart blamed the delay on a need to do “additional technical work” on the plane, though he also mentioned that the company hadn’t been granted flight licenses The registry in a statement: “Given pending licenses for the launch itself and for the satellites within the payload, additional engineering work required to determine the health and readiness of the system, and a very limited available launch window of just two days We determined that it is prudent to refocus the launch for the coming weeks to give us and our stakeholders time to pave the way for the full success of the mission.”
The CAA denied at the time that licensing was the problem. We have reached out to Virgin Orbit for further comments on this, as well as suggested launch dates.
However, Hart’s statement yesterday smoothed the issue and referred to joint efforts:
Receiving Virgin Orbit’s range and launch licenses brings us one step closer to launching the first satellite launch from UK soil. This is a major milestone for the Civil Aviation Authority and represents the successful completion of a tremendous effort that has involved building new regulations, new processes and new teams.
Ian Annett, Executive Vice President of the UK Space Agency, said: “In securing the licenses from Virgin Orbit, we have reached another important delivery milestone ahead of the first satellite launch from the UK.”
Virgin also received a range control license from the space agency, meaning it can issue alerts to let people stay away from “dangerous areas” and monitor their rocket’s progress.
One of Virgin Orbit’s distinguishing features is the horizontal launch of its LauncherOne rocket from its Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 carrier aircraft. This approach means the company does not need a fixed launch pad and can manage trajectories that may not be possible when planning a surface launch. The Boeing can also fly over the kind of weather that one of its vertically-launched counterparts can bring to the ground.
The company had planned to conduct up to six launches in 2022, but ended up executing two. Speaking at an earnings call for the company’s third-quarter, when it was expecting “three launches” for the year, Hart said they were “driven by the timing of regulatory approvals, our efforts to gain certifications for high-value payloads and satellite readiness.” “
He added that the company “has expanded our geographic reach through spaceport deals in Australia, Luxembourg and South Korea.”
Virgin Orbit announced this in an SEC filing earlier this week [PDF] that it raised an additional $20 million from its investment arm via a convertible bond, expecting to spend it all on working capital. ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/12/22/virgin_orbit_license/ Virgin Orbit satellites get green light from UK space agency • The Register