Virgin Orbit issued licenses ahead of Cornwall’s space launch

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl has been at Spaceport Cornwall since October

The last remaining licenses needed to launch Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall have been issued by the UK Space Regulator.

The Civil Aviation Authority granted the launch operator and beam control licenses, which were signed off by the Secretary of Transportation.

The CAA said it was “another important milestone” towards the first orbital space launch from British soil.

A launch from Cornwall Newquay Airport’s spaceport is scheduled for January.

In early December, the launch was postponed due to technical problems.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 has been at Spaceport Cornwall since October, followed a week later by their LauncherOne rocket which will carry nine satellites.

The CAA said the company has “taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable.”

Tim Johnson, director for space regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “This is another important milestone in enabling the very first orbital space launch from UK shores and these licenses will help Virgin Orbit in final preparations for launch.”

Spaceport Cornwall was granted an operating license by the CAA in November.

Each of the nine satellites also requires a license, but this is believed to be imminent.

Analysis by Jon Amos, BBC science correspondent

It was a complex affair to string all the regulatory threads together for this license.

Proving its missile system is safe was obviously key, but Virgin also had to pass environmental and physical fitness tests.

Furthermore, the location of the impending launch, across the Atlantic, required the agreement and coordination of the Irish, Spanish and Portuguese governments.

The nod from Dublin has been complicated in recent weeks by the change of premier, namely Taoiseach.

The CAA kept its promise, however, to process a missile license application in less than 18 months.

We had expected a December 14 launch, but this was postponed when Virgin Orbit discovered a glitch on one of its Newton rocket engines during testing in California.

This required further inspection and evaluation of the rocket already delivered to Newquay for launch in Cornwall.

Once the company is satisfied that it is ready, a further notice will be issued to aircraft and seafarers to advise them of the upcoming activity, expected in January.

Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, said the licensing decision “brings us one step closer to taking off the first satellite launch from UK soil”.

He said: “This is an important milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of a huge effort, which has included building new regulations, new processes and new teams.”

A precise date for the launch has not yet been set.

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “We are thrilled that Virgin Orbit licenses are available for this historic launch.

“It has been an incredible effort from all partners to achieve this milestone and my team looks forward to sharing the excitement about the upcoming launch with everyone who made it possible.”

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