Final license granted for Cornwall space launch
Virgin Orbit has received the final launch and range licences that will allow it to make the first satellite launch from Europe in the new year.
The licenses from the UK Civil Aviation Authority will allow Virgin’s modified 747 to launch satellites into low earth orbit, taking off from Spaceport Newquay in Cornwall.
The UK CAA says the licences were issued in 15 months, putting the UK framework on a competitive footing with international space regulators and follows first spaceport licence issued to Spaceport Cornwall.
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Alongside the launch license, Virgin Orbit also received its range control licence to issue warning notices to keep people out of hazardous areas and monitor the progress of the rocket.
“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,” said Tim Johnson, Director for Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
“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.”
The satellites for the launch are all packaged up following a missed launch window earlier in December. This includes a prototype reusable materials factory developed by UK startup Space Forge.
“Receiving Virgin Orbit’s range and launch licences takes us one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil. This is a major milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of an enormous effort, which has included the construction of new regulations, new processes and new teams,” said Dan Hart, Chief Executive of Virgin Orbit.
“With our partners at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Spaceport Cornwall, UK Space Agency and our payload customers, together we are progressing towards the first launch from Cornwall – keeping a strong focus on a safe and successful mission for all.”
Over 150 satellite licences have been approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since becoming the regulator in July 2021.
Virgin Orbit recently signed a deal with Spire Global for multiple launches starting next year. This is part of Spire Space Services, a subscription platform that offers fast, scalable access to space with continual upgrades and enhancements to the company’s fully deployed satellite constellation.
“Working with Virgin Orbit gives us flexibility and control over launches, rather than waiting for the secondary rideshare market to provide the orbits we want on timelines that we have to work with,” said Robert Sproles, Vice President, Constellation Planning & Operations. “It’s particularly crucial for offering our Space Services customers rapid and reliable access to space so that they can meet their mission-critical deadlines.”