Ahead of the first-ever satellite launch from UK soil, a huge life-size replica of the first rocket to launch appeared outside the Science Museum in London this weekend.
The exhibition, led by the UK Space Agency, was visited by thousands of people as part of the countdown to the first satellite launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall.
Activities at the exhibition included a Virtual Reality experience, which enabled visitors to experience a role at Mission Control, along with the chance to try on real astronaut suits and the opportunity to handle a real meteorite.
How the launch will increase the strength of the UK’s space sector
Opening the event, Nusrat Ghani, the UK’s Science Minister, said: “We are proud to be playing an important part in the first-ever satellite launch from UK soil, and we want to harness this incredible opportunity to inspire more young people to consider careers in science, engineering, and space.
“By establishing the UK as the leading European base to launch small satellites, we can build on our existing strengths in space manufacturing to create new jobs, grow the economy, and attract significant investment into our growing space sector.”
Following a successful dress rehearsal by Virgin Orbit in the US, the real LauncherOne rocket and its carrier aircraft – an adapted Boeing 747 dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’ – arrived in the UK last week. The integration of customer satellites into the rocket has been taking place in the newly inaugurated Space Systems Integration Facility (SSIF), at Spaceport Cornwall.
Spaceport Cornwall is one of seven sites being developed across the UK that will help to unleash a wave of innovation, creating hundreds of new jobs across the country.
The mission, which has been named ‘Start Me Up’, will mark the first orbital satellite launch from the UK, meeting a key ambition of the Government’s National Space Strategy. Moreover, this launch is the first commercial launch from Europe and the first international launch from Virgin Orbit.
Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, explained: “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, or other disciplines.”
He continued: “A strong space sector depends on attracting future talent, so it was fantastic to see young people inspired by our full-size replica rocket. I hope we have ignited a passion for future space careers in many of them, and made people aware of how space contributes to global sustainability and our prosperity as a nation.”
Virgin Orbit’s first UK project
The activities at the exhibition were supported by Virgin Orbit, ahead of their first satellite launch outside the US.
Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said: “I’m proud to stand alongside this distinguished group as we strive to bring a historic launch into space from UK soil. It is the first of many more milestones to come as the United Kingdom enters a new area as a leading space economy, opening up opportunities for generations of scientists, engineers, and explorers.
“This launch is being enabled through the dedication and hard work of so many. We at Virgin Orbit are honoured to be playing a part.”
Mathew Stannard is the Chief Pilot at Virgin Orbit, and will pilot the plane that is set to launch the rocket. Speaking at the event, he said: “Normally rockets are a business – we build it, we ship it, we get it ready, and we launch it. So, to actually have a model one here to show people is really cool.
“Most people come up to you and ask if things like this are something we’re doing in five years’ time, but no, we’re weeks away from the satellite launch now.”