Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit gets the green light for the first orbital space launch from the UK – and will use a repurposed Boeing 747 for the mission

Virgin Orbit was founded by Richard Branson.John Lamparski/PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

  • Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has been licensed for the first orbital space launch from the UK.

  • The mission, based at Spaceport Cornwall, will send small satellites into orbit.

  • A Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl will launch a rocket under its wing after takeoff.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has secured its remaining licenses, paving the way for the first orbital space launch to take off from British soil.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s space regulator, announced in a statement on Wednesday that Virgin Orbit has been cleared to launch from Spaceport Cornwall in southern England. The company, founded by Branson, has “taken all reasonable steps to ensure that security risks resulting from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable,” the CAA said.

The issuance of the final license to Virgin Orbit for the UK’s first orbital satellite launch was another “major milestone”, the CAA said in the statement.

The pristine orbit

Cosmic Girl from Virgin Orbit.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who agreed to grant the license, said in the statement that the launch “strengthens our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, this which can spur growth and innovation in the sector, as well as the creation of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”

The launch was scheduled to take place on December 14, but the date was pushed back due to regulatory and technical challenges, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told media at the time. Virgin Orbit did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the new launch date.

Virgin Orbit named the mission “Start Me Up” after a Rolling Stones song.

The launch will involve a converted Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl, flying 35,000 feet into the sky. It will release Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket stored under the wing. The rocket will then launch a batch of satellites into orbit.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson.Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Orbit, which provides small satellite launch services, is part of Branson’s Virgin Group, which offers a wide range of amenities such as healthcare and airlines. Another part of the group is Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceflight company.

Branson was a passenger on Virgin Galactic’s first crewed flight to the edge of space in July 2021. The VSS Unity, a rocket-powered aircraft, took off from Virgin Galactic’s facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico and flew to more than 50 miles above the Earth.

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