Britain issued its first spaceport license to Spaceport Cornwall on November 16, charting a path for the country’s first satellite launch. Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit initially planned to launch satellites from the spaceport on Wednesday, December 14, but that plan will now be delayed due to regulatory challenges according to BBC.
Virgin Orbit has named the first launch “Start Me Up” as a tribute to a hit song of the same name by the English rock band The Rolling Stones. The mission will be a launch of many firsts, including the first orbital launch ever from the UK, the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, and the first commercial launch from Western Europe.
As per Reuters, Virgin Orbit plans to conduct its first launch using a modified Boeing 747 aeroplane with a rocket attached under its wing. In what is known as a horizontal launch, the rocket will launch when the aeroplane is in the air, carrying small satellites into orbit.
“With licences still outstanding for the launch itself and for the satellites within the payload, additional technical work needed to establish system health and readiness, and a very limited available launch window of only two days, we have determined that it is prudent to retarget launch for the coming weeks to allow ourselves and our stakeholders time to pave the way for full mission success,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart in a statement according to BBC.
UK’s regulatory Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that the licensing and regulatory processes are not acting as a barrier to the launch. “The UK space regulation process is not a barrier to a UK space launch. Virgin Orbit has said in its statement this morning that there are some technical issues that will need to be resolved before launch. These in no way relate to the timing of when a licence will be issued by the Civil Aviation Authority,” said CAA’s director for space regulation Tim Johnson in a statement. According to CAA, the Cornwall spaceport’s license already permits Virgin Orbit to undertake its testing programme prior to launch.
When the license was granted to the Cornwall spaceport on November 16, a statement from the UK Space Agency said that the spaceport showed that it meets “the statutory requirements on safety, security, environment and other aspects to operate a UK spaceport.”