Starting up UK launch: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl touches down at Spaceport Cornwall

Spaceport Cornwall team welcome Cosmic Girl

Credit Oliver Turrell 

  • New milestone for UK Space as Virgin Orbit’s “Cosmic Girl” launch carrier aircraft touches down at Spaceport Cornwall 
  • The Countdown to Cornwall ramps up with Satellite Integration due to be complete on site by Friday, alongside Virgin Orbit’s ground support equipment (GSE) and rocket departing this week from California

Ahead of the first launch from UK soil, “Cosmic Girl” Virgin Orbit's converted Boeing 747 launch vehicle last night touched down at Spaceport Cornwall, Cornwall Airport Newquay. 

Cosmic Girl will carry seven payloads into Lower Earth Orbit from Cornwall via the LauncherOne rocket on the aptly named “Start Me Up” mission; Virgin Orbit’s first international launch. 

The missions of these satellites span a wide range of activities aimed at improving life on planet Earth, including reducing the environmental impact of production, preventing illegal trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism; and a host of national security functions.

This week payloads have begun integration into Virgin Orbit’s launch system from the state-of-the-art Space Systems Integration Facility, the recent opening of which heralded a new era of capability within UK small satellite services.

Alongside Cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbit’s ground support equipment (GSE) and rocket are departing this week from California.

As excitement for this historic moment begins to ramp up following the first round of now complete wet dress rehearsals in the US, the launch is on track for November. Virgin Orbit has been working closely with the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the Spaceport Cornwall team to make all necessary preparations for lift off. 

Cosmic Girl carried onboard Flight Lieutenant Mathew 'Stanny' Stannard who will pilot the inaugural mission from Spaceport Cornwall, as well as key Launch Engineers Bryce Schaefer, and Dayle Alexander - all of whom will now continue to prepare for the launch over the coming weeks.

Squadron Leader Matthew Stannard, Chief Pilot, Virgin Orbit: “It feels amazing to bring Cosmic Girl home to the UK. We are weeks away now from the first UK launch at Spaceport Cornwall so it’s all very real, I’m really excited to be here with the Virgin Orbit team.”

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall welcomed Cosmic Girl to Spaceport Cornwall said: “This is the moment we have been waiting eight years for and my team could not be more excited to welcome Cosmic Girl to the UK.

“A converted 747 using a converted airport to get to space is a perfect example of what we are working to achieve at Spaceport Cornwall. By making use of existing assets we want to set the bar for responsible launch - Starting Up launch in the UK with ‘Space For Good' at its core.”

Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said: “Watching a 747 land is always impressive, but everyone had goosebumps as Cosmic Girl touched down on the runway at Spaceport Cornwall for the first time.

“We are now a matter of weeks away from launch and, while the excitement is building, teams on the ground continue to work hard on the preparations. More equipment, including the rocket, will arrive in the coming days and the delicate task of integrating the satellites will begin.

“We have never done this before in the UK, it is a complex and technically challenging endeavour, and I’m confident in the capabilities of our partners at Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall to deliver a successful mission.”

Cornwall Council Leader Linda Taylor said: “This is an exciting and significant moment as we welcome Cosmic Girl to the first UK Spaceport right here in Cornwall. Cornwall Council is proud to be a part of this project which puts Cornwall once again on the global stage. Spaceport Cornwall is already inspiring our young people to become the next generation of scientists and innovators – we look forward to the ground breaking research and exploration that will be undertaken in the years to come, which will help us to better understand and address the needs of our planet and in particular climate change.”

Sam O'Dwyer, Managing Director, Cornwall Airport Newquay, commented, “We are incredibly proud to be involved in this innovative project to enable space launch from Cornwall Airport Newquay with Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit.  The team effort that has gone into developing  a spaceport facility  to deliver safe and secure space operations for the UK’s first ever space launch has been simply inspiring and I’d like to say a massive well done to my team.” 

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "We've backed Spaceport Cornwall from the beginning, promoting Newquay as an ideal location and investing £2 million in new facilities. The arrival of Cosmic Girl marks an historic chapter for Cornwall's space ambitions and we and we look forward to seeing the first satellites launched from UK soil."

Start Me Up is so named as a tribute to one of the most iconic British rock and roll bands of all time, the Rolling Stones. The hit song debuted on the 1981 album Tattoo You and was later released on the Forty Licks compilation by Virgin Records in 2002.

Story posted 12 October 2022

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