Team behind UK’s first rocket launch says ‘huge excitement’

The team behind the first rocket launch from British soil spoke of their excitement as they prepared for the launch.

Final preparations are underway before launching several satellites into space on Monday evening from Cornwall Airport near Newquay.

If all goes according to plan, the launch will take place at Spaceport Cornwall as part of the Start Me Up mission.

The initial window for the historic mission will open at 10:16 p.m. Monday, with additional fallback dates running through mid-to-late January

Named in homage to The Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission includes a modified Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket.

The 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl, will take off horizontally from the new facility carrying a rocket.

After about an hour of flight, the rocket will be launched to an altitude of 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland.

The aircraft will then return to the spaceport while the rocket fires up its engine and launches many small satellites into orbit for various civil and defense applications.

These will be the first satellites launched into space from Europe.

In the past, UK-made satellites had to be sent to overseas spaceports to make the journey into space.

Mock-up of Cosmic Girl showing how to carry a rocket under the wing of an airplane (Ben Birchall/PA)

Speaking on Sunday, Ian Annett, deputy director general of the UK Space Agency, described his “extreme excitement”.

“Who wouldn’t be excited to see this being done in Europe for the first time? That’s because it’s hard,” he said.

“There’s a point where training takes over and you get into that rhythm of teams that know what they have to do.

“They know when they have to make the decisions they need to make.

“I would say that the real achievements here are not the successes that are necessarily seen, but all the challenges that people have overcome together as a team.

“The culmination of all this is to put these exciting missions into space. It’s the things at the sharp end of the racket that really count.”

It was originally planned to premiere before Christmas, but had to be pushed back to 2023 for technical and regulatory reasons.

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said: “We knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake when we took the opportunity.

“We have worked closely with the UK Space Agency, the Civil Aviation Authority and Spaceport Cornwall, as well as the international aerospace community.

“I think we learned a lot by doing this. I think that like every first time, it’s difficult the first time, the second time you already know and can predict.

“The short answer is we’re excited to be here and we’re excited for the future and back later this year to launch again.”

Mr Annett said it was important not to rush into the launch.

“It’s important to make sure you get to a safe, successful launch, rather than rushing to failure,” he added.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system successfully completed a comprehensive launch test on Thursday.

“The mood is unbelievably high and every space launch is exciting and it’s exciting to be a part of it,” said Hart.

“I think the connection to the community and businesses here, the relationships at work and the mutual excitement of going live really takes a toll on my team.”

Mr Hart said Virgin Orbit was working closely with the Met Office to ensure British weather did not pose any problems during the launch.

“The plane is very solid,” he said.

“While we have the ability to fly above the clouds and take off above the clouds, we want to make sure that it’s not possible to trigger lightning.”

The Boeing 747 has also been described as the “ultimate reusable first stage” of a rocket launch.

“With this technology, we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of environmental protection,” said Hart.

“We understand what is happening to our planet, we understand how to optimize our behaviors, mainly thanks to what we know about space.”

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