UK prepares for first space launch

UK prepares for first space launch

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The first space launch into orbit from the UK is scheduled for this evening from Newquay in Cornwall.

The area around the airport has been closed off to drone traffic (see above) ready for the take-off of a converted 747 operated by Virgin Orbit.

Weather permitting, a rocket carried by the 747 will launch nine satellites into low earth orbit (LEO).  

These include the IOD-3 AMBER (IOD-3) built by AAC Clyde Space for the Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, the first of more than 20 Amber satellites providing space-based Maritime Domain Awareness data to users.

Two Prometheus-2 CubeSats developed for the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl) will support MOD science and technology activities both in orbit and on the ground through the development of ground systems focused at Dstl’s site near Portsmouth.

The DOVER Pathfinder is the first satellite from the RHEA group and is co-funded through the European Space Agency’s Navigation Program and built by Open Cosmos. This is a SmallSat created as a pathfinder for resilient global navigation satellite systems.

The TOPCAT satellite was developed by researchers at the University of Bath to monitor part of Earth’s upper atmosphere to better understand space weather and help improve GPS and communications technology.

“This will help us better understand how systems like GPS work, what their vulnerabilities might be in the case of events like solar flares, and how future systems should be designed,” said Dr Robert Watson, who is leading the TOPCAT project at Bath

TOPCAT is one of two satellites from the CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction Cubesat Experiment) mission in collaboration with the US Naval Research Laboratory on board the launcher.

Then there is ForgeStar-0, the fully returnable and reusable platform to enable in-space manufacturing developed by Space Forge in Wales. This will be the first for the company’s ForgeStar platform and will test future returns from space technology.

“Tonight’s planned first orbital space launch from the UK is a historic moment. Over the past 20 years, the UK space sector has built one of the most innovative and highly skilled sectors in our economy, valued at around £14.8 billion a year,” said Dr Alice Bunn, president of trde association UKspace.

“With continued investment, this could double to £30 billion by 2030. The sector already provides 42,000 jobs, and our analysis shows it could create a further 30,000 in the next decade, many of which are ‘green jobs’ in areas like climate change monitoring, smart transport routing and flood prevention. These jobs are spread across the UK including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Midlands and the South West.

“The industry is at a critical stage of development as we are on the cusp of an industrial revolution in space. Small satellites provide essential services for every single one of us; they are the invisible enabler of our modern lives, and the UK already has a global lead in their manufacture. This trend is increasing, which is why having a launch capability in the UK is so strategically significant,” she added.

The space launch is set to start between 21:45 and 22:45 tonight, when the Cosmic Girl 747 will take off from Spaceport Cornwall. Between 22:54 and 23:54, the LauncherOne rocket will be released, with Cosmic Girl returning to Cornwall between midnight at 01:00.

Virgin Orbit will be broadcasting a live stream on YouTube from 21:00 tonight.


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