Start Me Up: final checks ahead of tonight’s first UK rocket launch
Cosmic Girl, a specially adapted 747 aircraft, will carry the rocket from Spaceport Cornwall (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Wire).
Final preparations are underway for the launch of the first missile from British soil.
Several satellites are due to be launched from Cornwall Airport near Newquay on Monday evening.
If all goes according to plan, the launch will take place at Spaceport Cornwall as part of the Start Me Up mission.
The first historic mission window opens at 10:16 pm Monday, with additional backup dates continuing through mid-to-late January
The mission, named after the Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, includes a converted Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and a Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket.
The 747, called Cosmic Girl, will take off horizontally from the new facility carrying the rocket.
About an hour into the flight, the rocket will be dropped 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean in southern Ireland.
The plane then returns to the spaceport while the rocket fires its engine and launches several small satellites into orbit with a variety of civilian and military uses.
They will be the first satellites to be launched from Europe.
In the past, British-made satellites had to be sent to foreign spaceports to begin their journey into space.
In a speech on Sunday, Ian Annett, Deputy Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, described his “enormous excitement”.
“Who wouldn’t be happy that this is the first time this has been done in Europe? This is because it is difficult,” he said.
“There is a point where the training takes over and you fall into that rhythm of teams that you know what to do.
“They know when to make the necessary decisions.
“I would say the real achievements here are not the triumphs you want to see, but all the challenges that people have overcome together as a team.
“The crux of it all is delivering these exciting missions into space. It’s the stuff at the tip of the rocket that really counts.”
It was originally hoped that the launch could take place before Christmas, but due to technical and regulatory problems it had to be postponed to 2023.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said: “We knew this wasn’t going to be a cakewalk when we jumped at the opportunity.
“We have worked very closely with the UK Space Agency, the Civil Aviation Authority and Spaceport Cornwall, and the international aerospace community.
“I think we learned a lot from it. I think like every first time the first time is difficult, the second time you already know and can anticipate.
“The short answer is we’re excited to be here and we’re looking forward to the future and coming back later this year to re-enter the market.”
On Thursday, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system successfully completed an end-to-end launch test.