Science

Virgin Orbit delays historic UK launch due to licensing: reports

The first space launch from the UK has been delayed again.

Virgin Orbit, which had planned to launch satellites in Cornwall aboard its modified 747 carrier aircraft as early as December 14, has reportedly pushed back the date by a few weeks to Thursday (December 8) due to license issues related to the launch.

“Since the licenses for the launch itself and for satellites as part of the payload have not yet been issued, additional technical work [is] necessary to ensure system health and availability,” CEO Dan Hart said in a statement quoted by the BBC. (will open in a new tab). (Virgin Orbit has yet to comment on social media, but many other outlets confirmed the licensing issue Thursday.)

Citing a “very limited available launch window of only two days,” Hart said the new launch window would be “in the coming weeks,” so it’s not clear if the company is planning a launch in 2022. The holiday closure period in the United Kingdom may make it difficult to obtain a launch license at the end of December.

Pictured: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket to launch satellites

However, the UK’s Civil Space Authority noted that the regulation “is not an obstacle” to the launch and that Virgin Orbit’s technical problems “have nothing to do with the timing of the license”.

“Effective licensing is an integral part of the UK’s space activities,” the statement said. (will open in a new tab). “The Cornwall Space Port license already allows Virgin Orbit to conduct a pre-launch testing program. Our dedicated team is working closely with all partners to evaluate applications and issue remaining licenses within the time frame we set at the outset.”

Cornwall Spaceport, a converted airport in the southwest of England, was itself granted a license on November 16 after the airport showed it could meet “legislative requirements in terms of safety, environmental protection and other aspects,” the UK space agency said in a statement. statement (will open in a new tab) at that time.

Named “Start Me Up” after a song by the British band The Rolling Stones, Britain’s first Virgin Orbit mission will see several small satellites fly into space, including an in-orbit manufacturing experiment and a British military satellite.

A 747 aircraft from a company called Cosmic Girl will lift these satellites with a LauncherOne rocket. The booster flies under the wing of Cosmic Girl and then is released into the upper atmosphere, after which the two-stage One booster is launched and takes eight satellites into space.

This is not the first time the mission has been delayed; Virgin Orbit, anticipating the licensing of the Cornwall launch site in the fall, lowered its launch forecast for the next quarter as a result.

Cosmic Girl releases LauncherOne in the air during its first test flight in July 2019. (Image credit: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson)

Although Virgin Orbit has not yet flown in the United Kingdom, they have already made four successful flights from the Mojave air and space port in southern California, collectively sending dozens of small satellites into low Earth orbit for several customers.

The UK market is brimming with startups vying for the region’s first-ever launch, but all other companies are using various types of vertical rockets, which are not expected to launch until 2023 at the earliest.

Elizabeth Howell is co-author of Why Am I Taller? (will open in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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