Virgin Orbit issued permits ahead of space launch in Cornwall

Cosmic girl

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

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

The Civil Aviation Authority has issued the launch operator and range control licenses, which are signed by the Secretary of Transportation.

The CAA said it was “another important milestone” on the way to the first launch into space from British soil.

A launch from the spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay is expected in January.

Earlier in December, the launch was delayed 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 “has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably achievable”.

Tim Johnson, director for space regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “This is another important milestone in enabling the first-ever launch into space from the UK coast and these licenses will help Virgin Orbit with their final launch preparations. “

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

Permits are also required for each of the nine satellites, but those are imminent.

Analysis by Jon Amos, BBC Science Correspondent

Bringing together all the regulatory lines for this license has been a complex affair.

Demonstrating that the missile system is safe was of course paramount, but Virgin also had to pass environmental and suitability tests.

In addition, the upcoming launch’s location, over the Atlantic Ocean, has required the agreement and coordination of the Irish, Spanish and Portuguese governments.

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

However, the CAA has kept its promise to process a missile permit application in less than 18 months.

We expected a launch on December 14, but it was postponed 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 missile already delivered to Newquay for launch in Cornwall.

Once the company is satisfied it’s done, a new notice will be issued to aircraft and mariners alerting them to the upcoming activity, expected sometime in January.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the licensing decision “brings us one step closer to the first initiation of a satellite launch from UK soil”.

He said: “This is an important milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of a huge effort, including the construction of new regulations, new processes and new teams.”

A specific launch date has not yet been set.

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

“It’s been an incredible effort by all partners to reach this milestone, and my team can’t wait to share the excitement of the upcoming launch with everyone who made it possible.”

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