The UK has moved one step closer to launching its first rocket out of the atmosphere after granting a spaceport license to a proposed launch site.
Cornwall Spaceport at Newquay Airport has been given permission to host the rocket launch after meeting the required safety, security and environmental standards.
News of its CAA approval comes on the heels of NASA Launch the most powerful rocket This morning, the starting gun was fired for the historic attempt to return humans to the moon.
Cape Canaveral has hosted multiple launches since 1950, but Cornwall’s first launches are still in the works.
Cosmic Girl, a converted Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, will take off from the spaceport in the coming weeks, and the issuance of the permit allows rehearsals to begin.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the Virgin Orbit launch “reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight”.
This will “stimulate growth and innovation across the industry and create thousands of jobs and apprenticeships”, the minister added.
What do we know about the UK’s space program?
Since last year, the UK has stepped up its efforts to become a bigger player in the space race.
Since becoming the UK’s space regulator in July 2021, the CAA has granted nearly 150 satellite licences, and has since been granted spaceport licences.
Richard Moriarty, the agency’s chief executive, said: “As we become the regulator for space, we are committed to delivering our services in an open, effective and proportionate manner, with public safety at the heart.
“Our work does not stop with this licensing decision, as we continue to assess other licensing applications and monitor the effectiveness of licensing activity, all of which enable the UK’s space sector to grow safely and securely.”
Further applications from a range of other spaceports and operators are under consideration.
Consultations have recently begun on a proposed launch in Scotland, where a launch pad is due to come online in 2023.
To date, the UK has never hosted a space launch. The country has only completed one orbital launch, the Black Arrow in 1971, which actually took off in Australia.
How the UK will send its first rocket into space
When will we see the first UK release?
Cosmic Girl’s launch is expected in a few weeks, though it will look a little different from the NASA-like launches we’re used to.
While the likes of Artemis are launched vertically, Cosmic Girl will be launched horizontally – so it will look no different than a standard airplane take off.
That means launches are much less dependent on weather and don’t require as much ground infrastructure.
Operator Virgin Orbit prepared the plane at its factory in California, removing the seats and converting the upper deck into a control center for launch engineers.
Below its left wing is LauncherOne, a 21-meter (69-foot) rocket that will blast off at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean before accelerating to 8,000 mph to deploy seven satellites into orbit.
It forms part of the government’s National Space Strategy, which sets out how the UK will become the first country in Europe to put a satellite into orbit in 2022.