spaceconnect logo

Virgin Orbit gears up for its first UK launch

After months of licensing delays, Virgin Orbit is preparing to launch its first rocket from the UK within the week.

The first mission, “Start me up” is set to take off from Spaceport Cornwall on the evening of 9 January.

At a briefing conference held on 8 January, Virgin Orbit shared its plans for the maiden UK voyage, outlining how the Boeing 747 aircraft carrying the LauncherOne rocket will make its way out from the southern coast of Ireland before deploying the rocket.

Around an hour after the Boeing 747 takes off from Spaceport Cornwall, the LauncherOne rocket attached to the underside of the plane will detach and launch into orbit.


For this first UK-based mission, the LauncherOne rocket will be carrying nine payloads which it will place into a sun-synchronous orbit.

Among those with payloads on the rocket are the US Naval Research Laboratory, satellite developer SatRevolution, Horizon Technologies, Space Forge, and the UK Ministry of Defence.

The launch is still dependent on favourable weather in the region, but at this stage, the company is confident they will launch on schedule, according to chief executive officer of Virgin Orbit, Dan Hart.

“Right now everything is green,” Hart said.


“We’re going to proceed cautiously on this flight. We’re in different airspace than we’ve flown before. Our pilots are ready, but we want to make sure we give them every opportunity for a successful mission.”

While the Start Me Up mission is Virgin Orbit’s first from its new UK base of operations, it will be the sixth launch for the company in total, with the previous five taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Dan Hart spoke about the similarities in launching from their original Mojave base compared to the new Cornwall operation.

“A little different weather than Mojave, but otherwise the team is turning the wrenches the same way.

“From the operation of the system, it’s essentially the same,” he said.

Cornwall Spaceport is also just the first step in Virgin Orbit’s plans for their launch operations within the UK and across Europe.

Already there are multiple proposed launch facilities in the works in the UK, with plans for the Space Hub Sutherland in Scotland and the SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Islands.

Ian Arnett, deputy chief executive of the UK Space Agency, was positive about the country’s goals to be a leader in space launches on the continent, speaking about the Virgin Orbit launch.

“We can demonstrate that we will be Europe’s principal launch operator,” he said.

“This is not one shot and then go away again. We need to make sure that we can work together and demonstrate we can launch the right missions and be competitive.”

Liam McAneny

Liam McAneny

Liam McAneny is a journalist who has written and edited for his University International Relations journal. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (International Relations) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Wollongong in 2021. He joined Momentum Media in 2022 and currently writes for SpaceConnect and Australian Aviation. Liam has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations as well as astronomy.

Send Liam an email at: [email protected]

Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect here.

Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect.