Virgin Orbit issued licenses ahead of Cornwall space launch

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl has been at Spaceport Cornwall since October

The last remaining licenses required for the Virgin Orbit launch from Spaceport Cornwall have been issued by the UK space regulator.

The Civil Aviation Authority granted the launch and range control operator licenses, which were signed by the Secretary of Transport.

The CAA said it was “another major step” towards the first orbital space launch from UK soil.

A launch from the Cornwall Airport Spaceport in Newquay is scheduled for January.

Earlier in December, the launch was pushed back due to technical issues.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 has been at Spaceport Cornwall since October, followed a week later by their LauncherOne rocket which will carry nine satellites.

The CAA said the company had “taken all reasonable steps to ensure that security risks resulting from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable.”

Tim Johnson, Director of Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “This is another major milestone in delivering the first ever orbital space launch from UK shores and these licenses will assist Virgin Orbit in its final launch preparations.”

Spaceport Cornwall obtained an operating license from the CAA in November.

Each of the nine satellites also requires a license, but those are said to be imminent.

Analysis by Jon Amos, BBC science correspondent

It has been a complex undertaking to bring together all the regulatory threads of this license.

Demonstrating that its rocket system is safe was of course paramount, but Virgin also had to pass environmental tests as well as fit and proper person tests.

In addition, the location of the next launch, across the Atlantic, required the agreement and coordination of the Irish, Spanish and Portuguese governments.

The wink from Dublin has been complicated in recent weeks by the change of Prime Minister, or Taoiseach.

The CAA, however, delivered on its promise to process a rocket license application in less than 18 months.

We were expecting a December 14 launch, but that was pushed back when Virgin Orbit discovered a technical problem with one of its Newton rocket engines during testing in California.

This required further inspection and assessment of the rocket already delivered to Newquay for the Cornwall launch.

Once the company is satisfied that it is ready, a further notice to aircraft and mariners will be issued to alert them to the upcoming activity, scheduled for January.

Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, said the licensing decision “brings us closer to the first satellite launch from UK soil”.

He said: “This is a major milestone for CAA and represents the successful completion of a huge effort, which has included building new regulations, new processes and new teams.”

A specific date for the launch has not yet been set.

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “We are delighted that the Virgin Orbit licenses are in place for this historic launch.

“It was an incredible effort by all partners to achieve this milestone, and my team looks forward to sharing the excitement of the upcoming launch with everyone who made it possible.”

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