Jumbo jet to launch UK’s first rocket into space UK News

The jumbo jet that will launch Britain’s first rocket into space has arrived at Cornwall’s Newquay Airport.

Cosmic Girl was a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, carrying more than 2.5 million passengers on nearly 8,300 flights.

But now the seats have been removed and the upper deck has been transformed into the launch engineer’s control center, with a 21m (69ft) rocket slot under the left wing.

The jet, operated by Virgin Orbit, will take off from the Cornwall spaceport at the airport early next month.

The LauncherOne rocket will launch at an altitude of 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. It will then accelerate to 8,000 mph before deploying seven satellites into orbit.

The head of the Cornwall Spaceport, Melissa Thorpe, said the plane’s arrival came after eight years of work.

“A converted 747 going into space using a converted airfield is a perfect example of what we’re trying to achieve at Cornwall Spaceport,” she said.

“By leveraging existing assets, we hope to set the standard for responsible launches, with ‘space for good’ at its core.”

The Start Me Up mission is seen as a huge leap forward for the rapidly growing UK space industry.

The seats of the giant planes have been torn out.Image: Virgin Orbit
The seats of the giant planes have been torn out.Image: Virgin Orbit

Most of the satellites are built in the UK and will be loaded into the rocket this week in a super-clean pylon at the spaceport.

These include a prototype orbital factory for the manufacture of high-value alloys and semiconductors, built by Space Forge in the Welsh business park.

Another, called IOD-3 Amber and designed by Horizon Technologies, will be part of a constellation of satellites monitoring illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism.

Lucy Edge, Chief Operating Officer of Satellite Applications Catapult, said the UK has a strong track record in building innovative satellites.

“This launch from UK soil marks the beginning of the next great phase in the UK space story, opening commercial access to space from our own back gardens,” she said.

So-called aircraft-level rocket launches require little ground infrastructure and are less weather-dependent. Previous Virgin Orbit missions have been in the US.

Two traditional rocket launch pads are under construction in northern Scotland and the Shetland Islands.

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