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9 Jan 2023 by Mark Caswell

Cornwall Airport Newquay will be in the spotlight this evening, as the location for the first orbital rocket launch from the UK.

All being well Virgin Orbit’s modified B747 jumbo will take off from Spaceport Cornwall within the airport on Monday evening, before releasing the LauncherOne rocket at 35,000 feet.

The rocket will then climb to 500km above the earth, where it will release nine satellites into orbit.

Weather and technology dependent the launch is expected around 2215 this evening (Monday January 9).

The Richard Branson-founded US firm first reached orbit with its LauncherOne rocket in January 2021, and has subsequently carried out two other successful launches using Cosmic Girl, its modified jumbo aircraft.

The launch has thrust Cornwall Airport Newquay – which has just a handful of scheduled airline customers including Aer Lingus, Eastern Airways, Easyjet, Flybe, Loganair and Ryanair – into the news.

Thousands of visitors are expected to descend on the airport, although there is no guarantee that the launch will go ahead today, with Virgin Orbit also having back-up dates in mid and late January.

Cornwall Airport Newquay said that “its direct access to the Atlantic Ocean and segregated airspace, as well as the close proximity to world-leading satellite communications provider Goonhilly Earth Station (25 miles south)” had made the airport “the ultimate launchpad for the UK’s newest space ventures”.

The mission – titled Start Me Up in honour of the Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, will mark the first orbital launch from the UK, the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, and the first commercial launch from western Europe.

After ensuring that every technical aspect is sound and every regulation and code has been satisfied, it is gratifying to see this historic endeavour on the verge of coming to fruition, said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO.

“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.”,