Virgin Orbit Plans First UK Launch for Late August

LauncherOne ignites on its way to space. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

LONG BEACH, Calif. — With three successful launches under its belt, Virgin Orbit is planning two flights this summer to demonstrate its agile air-launched booster system, including the first-ever satellite launch from the United Kingdom, a company executive said this week.

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Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Sierra Space Enters into International Agreement with Spaceport Cornwall for Dream Chaser Spaceplane; Bolsters UK Space Industry

Dream Chaser Tenacity (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

MOU Advances Plan for Sustained Operations with the UK’s Horizontal Launch
Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay


Follows Completion of UK Space Agency Funded Concept of Operations
For Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser

SPARKS, Nev. and CORNWALL, England, June 9, 2021 (Sierra Space PR) — Sierra Space, the new commercial space subsidiary of global aerospace and national security leader Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Spaceport Cornwall, the UK’s horizontal launch Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay in South West England.

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Cornwall Council Approves $13.2 Million Grant for Virgin Orbit Project

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over strenuous environmental protests, the Cornwall Council approved a £10.3 million ($13.2 million) grant to fund improvements at Cornwall Airport Newquay to accommodate air launches by Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit.

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UK Space Agency Awards £7.35 million to Virgin Orbit to Support Cornwall Operations

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

SWINDON, UK (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency will award £7.35 million [$9.44 million] to Virgin Orbit UK Limited, the UK branch of US launch operator Virgin Orbit, to enable horizontal launch of small satellites at Cornwall Airport Newquay, it was confirmed today (Tuesday 5 November).

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Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Approves Spaceport Expenditures

Spaceport Cornwall got a boost on Wednesday as the Cornwall Council’s Cabinet narrowly approved the expenditure of £12 million ($14.79 million) to support Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launch company.

The 6-4 vote sends the proposal to the full Cornwall Council for a vote at its next meeting on Nov. 26. The contribution is part of a £22.5 million ($28.1 million) program for upgrades to the Cornwall Airport Newquay that also includes:

  • UK Space Agency: £7.5m ($9.68 million)
  • Virgin Orbit: £2.5m ($3.1 million)
  • Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership: £500,000 ($616,295)

Virgin Orbit will use a Boeing 747 to air launch satellites using its LauncherOne booster. The company is planning to conduct its first test launch within the next two months.

According to a staff report prepared for the Cabinet, the funds would allow the airport to acquire a spaceport license, make improvements that will allow it to accommodate wide-body aircraft, accelerate progress on its Aerohub Enterprise Zone, and add value to its business park.

“Spaceport Cornwall is an opportunity for Cornwall to create high value jobs in a fast-growing sector that is worth £14.8bn in the UK,” the report stated. “The initial Spaceport project will create 150 direct jobs by 2025, which are 2.6 times more productive than the national average. This will add £200m [$249.5 million] Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy and will act as a catalyst for wider growth in associated sectors which use space derived data and applications.

“Specifically, Spaceport Cornwall will provide sovereign launch capability for small scale satellites and see a ‘pathfinder’ launch delivered by 2021,” the document added. “There are no plans to develop human space flight as part of the Spaceport Cornwall.”

Opposition to Spaceport Cornwall Plan

It seems not everyone is on board with plans by UK governments to spend $25 million to create a spaceport in Cornwall for billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launch company.

Cornwall Live reports Nichola Andersen has written to members of the Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to urge them to vote against a £12 million [$14.79 million] package for upgrades to Cornwall Airport Newquay to accommodate Virgin Orbit operations. The Cornwall Council will vote on the package in November.

She states that the council’s carbon emissions report is flawed and says that the cost of the spaceport should be with Sir Richard Branson and not Cornwall’s taxpayers.

“The report that the council has had is not a proper carbon audit – it has been calculated just on launches by Virgin Orbit, it has not taken into account all the other aspects, the testing by Virgin, the transport of their staff, the other launches.

Under the proposals Cornwall Council would provide £12m [$14.79 million] of funding for the spaceport with £7.5m [$9.68 million] coming from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m [$3.1 million] from Virgin Orbit.

Nichola said: “Richard Branson is the only beneficiary of this. Cornwall Council should be saying there are better things that we can spend this money on that will benefit people in Cornwall.

Virgin Orbit plans to use a Boeing 747 to air launch satellites using its LauncherOne rocket. Officials said the first flight test of the new booster is expected this fall.

Cornwall Council Cabinet to Vote on $14.8 Million for Spaceport

CORNWALL, UK ( Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership PR) — Business and space industry leaders are backing plans to create the UK’s first horizontal launch spaceport in Cornwall.

Spaceport Cornwall would use planes rather than vertical take-off rockets to put satellites into space from Cornwall Airport Newquay as early as next year, in partnership with California-based launch company Virgin Orbit.

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