Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit gets the go-ahead for first launch into space from the UK – and will use a repurposed Boeing 747 for the mission

Richard Branson next to Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl

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

  • Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit was licensed for the first launch into orbit from the UK.

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

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

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has been awarded the remaining licenses, paving the way for the first space launch into orbit to lift off from British soil.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Britain’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, had “taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably achievable,” the CAA said.

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

The virgin job

The cosmic girl from Virgin Orbit.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper, who agreed to grant the licence, said in the statement that the launch “consolidates our position as a leading aerospace nation as we look to the future of space travel, which can drive growth and innovation across the sector .as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”

The launch was scheduled for 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 has named the mission “Start Me Up” after a song by The Rolling Stones.

At launch, a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, dubbed Cosmic Girl, will soar 35,000 feet into the air. It will release Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne missile stored under the wing. The rocket will then launch a series of satellites into orbit.

Richard Branson

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

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

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

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