Virgin Orbit granted final approval for the first Spaceport Cornwall launch

Virgin Orbit has been granted the final remaining licenses from the UK Civil Aviation Authority ahead of the scheduled first UK launch from Spaceport Cornwall.

The licenses were issued within 15 months and following consent from the UK Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, for Virgin Orbit’s launch and range licenses. This means he is in agreement with the licensing decisions conducted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority for the Spaceport Cornwall launch.

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.

“Effective licensing forms an integral part of UK space activity, and with public safety at the heart of our decision making, we’ve worked with Virgin Orbit to assess their applications and issue licences within our expected timelines.”

What will the Virgin Orbit launch involve?

Virgin Orbit’s ‘Start Me Up’ mission will pioneer the first space launch in the UK. The mission will launch from Spaceport Cornwall, which operates out of Cornwall Newquay Airport, and will involve a modified Boeing 747 carrying a rocket that will be flown and released in a designated launch location over the Atlantic Ocean.

Boosting job opportunities for Spaceport Cornwall and the UK space sector

By establishing space launch capabilities in the UK, Virgin Orbit will provide lucrative investment and job opportunities to not only Spaceport Cornwall but the UK space industry as a whole. The sector has gathered significant traction in recent years. It is estimated to be worth £16.5bn and supports 47,000 jobs, with around 2,500 apprenticeships opening the door to the sector more than ever before.

Spaceport Cornwall
©shutterstock/JANUSZ KONARSKI

Mark Harper said: “Today we are one step closer to opening the UK’s galactic gateway, with Virgin Orbit receiving a historic first licence to allow the UK’s first ever spaceflight launch. The planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”

Ian Annett, Deputy Chief Executive at the UK Space Agency, added: “With Virgin Orbit’s licences secured, we have achieved another key delivery milestone ahead of the first satellite launch from UK soil. I would like to thank our partners across government and industry who continue to work hard to make our shared ambitions a reality.

“Establishing orbital launch capabilities in the UK is already bringing investment and jobs into Cornwall and other communities across the UK and inspiring a new generation to join our growing space sector.”

What do the new licenses cover?

The development means Virgin Orbit achieved the licensing requirements outlined by the UK Civil Aviation Authority that guarantee all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that safety risk regarding the launch is as low as reasonably practicable.

Additionally, Virgin Orbit also met other appropriate environmental and security aspects needed for the launch, as well as receiving its range control license from the space regulator. This enables them to issue warning notices to exclude people from hazardous areas and monitor the rocket’s progress.

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, concluded: “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 the excitement of the upcoming launch with everyone that has made it happen. Together we can now get these Earth-benefitting technologies into Low Earth Orbit and open up Space For Good from Cornwall.”

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