The National Reconnaissance Office Is Partnering With the UK’s Ministry of Defence on Historic Mission Aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne

Virgin Orbit’s first international commercial rocket launch will carry a joint U.K. and U.S. mission scheduled for takeoff later this year.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announces today that it will carry a joint mission between the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in its historic flight out of Newquay Airport in Cornwall, England later this year. It will be the first rocket launch from British soil, and the first commercial launch from Western Europe.

Virgin Orbit will send two satellites to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) using the LauncherOne launch platform aboard Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. The Prometheus 2 CubeSats will provide a test platform for monitoring radio signals including GPS and sophisticated imaging, expected to pave the way for a more collaborative and connected space communication system with our allies.


Lift off for UK Spaceflight as Regulations Passed

  • new regulations pave the way for spaceflight and satellite launches from UK soil
  • satellite launches could improve sat nav systems here on earth and allow us to monitor weather patterns and climate change
  • planned spaceport sites across the UK to create a significant number of highly skilled jobs, with the potential for launches to take place from 2022

LONDON (UK Space Agency PR) — Another step towards space exploration from UK soil has been unlocked, with the passing of the spaceflight regulations, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced today (29 July 2021).

The legislation provides the framework to regulate the UK space industry and enable launches to take place from British soil for the very first time. It will unlock a potential £4 billion of market opportunities over the next decade, creating thousands of jobs and benefiting communities right across the UK.


British Spaceflight to Become Reality as Government Provides Launch Pad for Spaceports

Artist’s impression of a UK spaceport. (Credit: Perfect Circle PV)

Satellites and rockets could launch from UK soil in 2022, with spaceports planned for Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

  • government paves the way for commercial space launches from UK soil with new regulations
  • planned spaceport sites across Great Britain to create hundreds of jobs as we build back better
  • regulations provide grounding for new business opportunities such as space tourism from newly established spaceports

LONDON (Department of Transport PR) — Another barrier to space exploration from UK soil is lifted today (24 May 2021), with spaceports expected to be in operation from next summer.

Developed with the UK Space Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority, new regulations being laid in Parliament today will mean satellites and rockets can launch from UK soil for the first time – with spaceports planned for Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.


UK Government Seeks Additional Advice on Spaceport Locations

Credit: CAA
Credit: CAA

The UK Department of Transport has launched a consultation concerning the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) identification of eight potential locations for the nation’s first spaceport.

The CAA’s findings include key operational, safety, meteorological, environmental and economic criteria for selecting a suitable site for a spaceport. These include:

  • an existing civil or military aerodrome which has a runway which is, or is capable of being extended to, over 3000m in length;
  • could accommodate segregated areas of airspace to manage spaceflights safely; and,
  • is located away from densely populated areas in order to protect the uninvolved general public.

Based on its criteria, the CAA has identified eight existing coastal aerodromes which are potentially feasible locations for a UK spaceport.

This consultation seeks views on the criteria identified by the CAA as key and whether there are any other factors or criteria that should be considered in supporting a site for a spaceport in the UK.

We are also seeking views on the eight potentially feasible locations which the CAA has identified based on its criteria. In particular, whether any of these locations should be disregarded and why? And also, whether other locations should be considered further.

At this stage we are not consulting on local communities’ and stakeholders’ preferences regarding a potential spaceport in any of these locations; we will ensure that the views of local people are taken into account and seek their buy-in to any proposed location that may be identified before any decisions are taken to proceed with a UK spaceport.

We are not consulting on the highly technical aspects of the CAA’s report. Rather, we are seeking views on the strategic position to be adopted by government on the location of a spaceport.

The consultation period began on 15 July 2014 and will run until 6 October 2014.

For information on how to respond, download the consultation here.

A Closer Look at the UK’s Commercial Space Review

Following the release of the document, “UK Government Review of Commercial Spaceplane Certification and Operations: Summary and Conclusions,” almost all media attention focused on one element of the report: the 8 candidate sites for the nation’s first spaceport.

This laser focus is easy to understand. The fierce, tooth-and-nail competition to land some big government project will be fun to watch. And spaceports are super cool. Well, they are when space planes are actually flying to space. When like a decade goes by with people promising imminent spaceflights without a single one taking place, spaceports become a lot less cool.  (I’m looking at you…everybody in Mojave!)

But, I digress. I went through the 80-page document and the 321-page technical report its based on so you don’t have to. Why would I do this? Because you guys are the best! You’re very welcome.

Key excerpts follow with commentary as appropriate. Read away!