Virgin Orbit has been licensed to operate the UK’s first space launch.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s company had demonstrated that it had “taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable”.
Virgin Orbit is planning a launch from Spaceport Cornwall to Cornwall Newquay Airport in the coming weeks.
The mission named Start Me Up in tribute to rock band The Rolling Stones will involve a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.
The 747 will take off horizontally from the new Cornwall Newquay Airport facility while carrying the rocket, before releasing it 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland.
The aircraft will return to the spaceport, while the rocket will ignite its engine and carry several small satellites into orbit with a variety of civilian and defense applications.
They will be the first satellites launched into space from Europe.
UK-made satellites previously had to be sent to foreign spaceports to get them into space.
CAA’s director for space regulation, Tim Johnson, said: “This is another important milestone in enabling the very first orbital space launch from UK shores and these licenses will assist Virgin Orbit in its final launch preparations.
“Effective licensing is an integral part of the UK’s space business and, with public safety at the heart of our decision-making process, we have worked with Virgin Orbit to assess their applications and issue licenses within the foreseen timeframe.”
Virgin Orbit Chief Executive Dan Hart said: “Receiving Virgin Orbit’s range and launch licenses brings us one step closer to getting the UK’s first satellite launch off the ground.
“This is a major milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of a huge effort, which has included building new regulations, new processes and new teams.
“With our partners at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Spaceport Cornwall, the UK Space Agency and our payload customers, we are moving forward together towards the first launch from Cornwall, maintaining a strong focus on a safe and secure mission. success for all”.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Today we are one step closer to opening the UK’s galactic gateway, with Virgin Orbit receiving a historic first license to enable the UK’s first spaceflight launch.
“The planned launch strengthens our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the industry, as well as create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”
The CAA said it awarded the licenses within 15 months of receiving evidence from Virgin Orbit about its plans.
The time estimated by the regulator for the delivery of space flight licenses is between nine and 18 months.
Spaceport Cornwall is one of seven spaceports under development across Great Britain.
The first vertical space launch is expected to take place next year from the planned SaxaVord spaceport at Unst in Shetland.
Last month the CAA launched a public consultation on the environmental effects of the spaceport.
The locations for four other proposed spaceports in Scotland are: A’ Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland; Prestwick in South Ayrshire; Campbelltown in Argyll and Bute; and North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
Another spaceport is being planned at Llanbedr, Gwynedd in north Wales.
The government hopes commercial space launches will be worth £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.