Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit gets green light for first orbital space launch from UK and will use a repurposed Boeing 747 for the mission

Virgin Orbit was founded by Richard Branson.John Lamparski/PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

  • Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has been licensed for the first orbital space launch from the UK.

  • The mission, based at Spaceport Cornwall, will send small satellites into orbit.

  • A Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl will release a flare from under its wing after takeoff.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has obtained the remaining licenses, setting the stage for the first orbital space launch to take off from British soil.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s space regulator, announced in a statement Wednesday that Virgin Orbit has been cleared to launch from the Cornwall spaceport in southern England. The company, founded by Branson, had “taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the safety risks arising from launch activities were as low as reasonably practicable,” the CAA said.

The granting of the final license to Virgin Orbit for the UK’s first orbital satellite launch was another “milestone,” the CAA said in the statement.

The Virgin Orbit

The Cosmic Girl from Virgin Orbit.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who agreed to grant the licence, said in the statement that the launch “strengthens our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can stimulate growth and the innovation across the industry, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”

The launch was scheduled for December 14, but the date was pushed back due to regulatory and technical issues, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told media at the time. Virgin Orbit did not respond to an Insider’s request for comment on the new launch date.

Virgin Orbit named the mission “Start Me Up” after a song by the Rolling Stones.

The launch will involve a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, called Cosmic Girl, flying 35,000 feet in the sky. It will release Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket stored under the wing. The rocket will then release a group of satellites into orbit.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson.Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Orbit, which provides launch services for small satellites, is part of Branson’s Virgin Group, which offers a wide range of services such as healthcare and airlines. Another part of the group is Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceflight company.

Branson was a passenger on Virgin Galactic’s first manned flight to the edge of space in July 2021. The VSS Unity, a rocket-powered aircraft, took off from Virgin Galactic’s facilities at Spaceport America in New Mexico and flew to more than 50 miles above the Earth.

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