Virgin Orbit gears up to lift off from Cornwall in hours

Virgin Orbit attach the LauncherOne rocket to the Cosmic Girl jet

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The UK’s first-ever space launch is set to take place today, departing from Spaceport Cornwall as early as 10.16pm, Virgin Orbit have said. The mission — dubbed Start Me Up, after the 1981 hit by the Rolling Stones — will carry satellites into orbit for seven different commercial and governmental customers from several nations, including a joint UK–US mission to study space weather phenomena. Instead of a conventional lift-off from the ground, Virgin Orbit is using a two-stage-to-orbit air launch, with the LauncherOne rocket to be first ferried 35,000 feet up into the atmosphere under the wing of a modified Boeing 747-400 airliner, “Cosmic Girl”, before being jettisoned to leave Earth’s atmosphere under its own power.

Start Me Up is a collaborative effort with the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the Royal Air Force, and Cornwall Council.

In preparation for today’s launch, the 70-feet-long LauncherOne system has already been attached to the Cosmic Girl launch platform.

Last Thursday saw Virgin Orbit successfully complete an end-to-end launch rehearsal, taking the rocket through the loading of fuel and on to a terminal count that confirmed the readiness of both the hardware and the launch team.

Should today’s launch be unable to go ahead, however — with LauncherOne slung under Cosmic Girl’s wing, crosswinds during takeoff are a potential issue — back-up launch windows have been pencilled in going into mid- and late-January.

A Virgin Orbit Spokesperson said: “Given the number of ‘firsts’ being executed for this launch — the first orbital launch from UK soil or from anywhere in western Europe — Virgin Orbit and its partners will maintain a conservative posture with regard to system health, weather, and all other elements of scheduling.”



  • ‘A new era in the British space industry’08:21
  • Good morning08:10
  • ‘A new era in the British space industry’

    Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said: “After ensuring that every technical aspect is sound and every regulation and code has been satisfied, it is gratifying to see this historic endeavour on the verge of coming to fruition.

    “This launch represents the opening of a new era in the British space industry and new partnerships across industry, government, and allies.

    “Space is already responsible for tens of thousands of jobs across the UK, the global industry is growing quickly, and so is the potential.

    “This launch is demonstrating that with the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne system an airport can become a spaceport that sends humankind’s innovations on their journey.”

    UK Space Agency Deputy CEO Ian Annett added: “We are entering a new era for space in the UK with the first ever satellite launch from UK soil and from Europe.

    “This is a significant landmark for the nation, the UK Space Agency and for all those who have worked so hard over many years to make our ambitions to create a commercial space launch capability a reality.

    “The development of new orbital launch capabilities is already generating growth, catalysing investment and creating jobs in Cornwall and other communities across the United Kingdom.

    “This will lead to new careers, improved productivity and inspire the next generation of space professionals, and this is just the beginning.

    “I look forward to seeing more launches from other UK spaceports over the next year, putting us firmly on the map as Europe’s leading destination for commercial small satellite launch.”

    Good morning

    I’m Ian Randall and I’ll be bringing you the latest on today’s Virgin Orbit “Start Me Up” mission launch from Spaceport Cornwall.

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