‘Emotions bubbling’ as Cornwall prepares for Britain’s first orbital rocket launch

There is a “bubbling of excitement” in the team preparing for the UK’s first orbital rocket launch, but they are “laser sharp” as final checks are carried out, the mission chief says.

The Start Me Up mission departs from Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay Airport, with the launch window now starting around 9:40pm on Monday.

It will be the first orbital launch from British soil – or anywhere in Western Europe – and comes after technical problems pushed it away from Christmas.

“Launching into space is a very serious matter and we will be looking at integrating all the information about the system, weather, coverage,” said Dan Hart, head of Virgin Orbit.

However, there will be no fire and noise from the NASA launch.

Instead, a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl will carry the 21-meter LaucherOne rocket – which contains many small satellites – to an altitude of 35,000 feet before blasting into space and eventually reaching 8,000 miles per hour.

This will happen about an hour after takeoff and the event will be streamed live online.

“At the moment everything is green” for launch, Hart said on Sunday afternoon.

However, he added that they are “proceeding with caution” and are prepared to delay if necessary as other launch opportunities become available in the next few weeks.

“The missile was armed yesterday [Saturday] and we will be refueling later today. So we’re in full motion now,” he told reporters.

With the rocket strapped under the plane’s wing, he said they had to keep an eye on crosswinds.

The satellites on board include: prototype factory in orbit for the production of high-value alloys and semiconductors, and one that will join the constellation of satellites monitoring illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said the teams involved “absolutely blew it” and she feels confident ahead of the big day.

“I’m just feeling excited… I can’t wait for the UK to join this exclusive launch club because it’s going to be good,” she said.

Mr Hart said putting satellites into orbit would be relatively quick once the rocket was in motion.

“We’re going to do a three-minute first-degree burn followed by about six minutes of second-degree burn. We’ll sail around Antarctica, we’ll sail around Australia, and then we’ll watch the final burn and payloads. deployed.”

He said “everything has to go right” for the mission to work.

Read more:
Everything you need to know about Britain’s first rocket launch
How to detect the first rocket launch from the ground in the UK

Cornwall’s spaceport get a UK license firstbut there may be more in the coming years as demand from businesses to launch small satellites grows.

“There are seven other spaceports that have been identified in the UK for both vertical and horizontal launches,” said Ian Annett, deputy director general of the UK Space Agency.

He said Snowdonia in North Wales and Glasgow Prestwick Airport were among those, and local authorities were looking at these possibilities.

Thorpe said some “future proofing” had been done at Newquay Airport so that it could also be used as a spaceport, including strengthening taxiways and switches to make Virgin Orbit aircraft easier to manoeuvre.

“When Virgin is not here, we can open it up to other companies,” she said.

“We’ve got a brand new facility that’s about to open that will have other space companies – it’s full and we haven’t even opened it yet. People are so excited.”

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