By Jill Dando News
The first ever orbital space launch from British soil is getting ready to blast off.
Tonight’s mission will see a repurposed 747 jumbo jet release a rocket over the Atlantic to take nine satellites high above the Earth.
Newquay Airport in Cornwall is the starting point for the operation.
The mission is being operated by Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin Orbit, which has repurposed a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft.
If it succeeds, it will be a major milestone for UK space, marking the birth of a home-grown launch industry.
“What we’ve seen over the last eight years is this building of excitement towards something very aspirational and different for Cornwall, something that started off as a project that not a lot of people really believed was ever going to happen,” said Melissa Thorpe, who heads up Spaceport Cornwall.
“What I think people have seen here in Cornwall is a small team that lives and breathes this county deliver something quite incredible.”
This first foray into orbital launch from UK territory is actually using an American company, Virgin Orbit, that was founded by Sir Richard Branson.
The British entrepreneur has had one of his old passenger airliners converted to carry a rocket, called LauncherOne, underneath its left wing.
Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said: “After ensuring that every technical aspect is sound and every regulation and code has been satisfied, it is gratifying to see this historic endeavor on the verge of coming to fruition.
“This launch represents the opening of a new era in the British space industry and new partnerships across industry, government, and allies.
“Space is already responsible for tens of thousands of jobs across the UK, the global industry is growing quickly, and so is the potential.
“And this launch is demonstrating that with the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne system an airport can become a spaceport that sends humankind’s innovations on their journey.”
When the 747 leaves Newquay, it will head west out over the Atlantic to a designated launch zone just off the coast of the Irish counties of Kerry and Cork.
At the appropriate moment and at an altitude of 35,000ft, the Virgin jet will release the rocket, which will then ignite its first-stage engine to begin the climb to orbit.