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UK to become first country to launch satellites into orbit from Europe

Christian Fernsby |
The first ever orbital satellite launch from the UK is happening soon, marking a new era in the UK’s space history.

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The first launch will take place from Spaceport Cornwall in the south-west of England. It will be what is known as a ‘horizontal launch’.

A specially modified Boeing 747 from Virgin Orbit called Cosmic Girl, with a rocket attached under its wing, will take off from a runway. In flight, the LauncherOne rocket will launch from the wing, taking multiple small satellites into orbit.

The plane will then return to the Spaceport, able to launch more satellites in future.

Spaceport Cornwall is situated at Newquay Airport, near the coast of Cornwall. The 747 will fly out over the sea and launch its rocket far away from populated areas.

UK space companies have a strong track record in satellite manufacturing, spacecraft design and data applications. In fact, Glasgow builds more satellites than anywhere outside the United States.

The UK is also located relatively far north, which means it’s perfect for launching satellites into polar and Sun-synchronous orbits, which go over the north and south poles. These orbits are ideal for satellites that monitor the Earth and provide telecommunications.

With a long coastline and many islands, the UK offers a range of suitable locations for launching rockets safely out over the sea – away from settlements and people.

Several small satellites will be launched into orbit on the first UK launch.

The satellites will do many different things, including improving navigation and communications.

Several of the satellites have been built in the UK, including a research satellite from RHEA Group, which was built by Open Cosmos in Oxfordshire.

The first Welsh satellite will also be on the launch, from Cardiff-based Space Forge. It will test the process of using the unique microgravity environment of space to manufacture special materials that are much more difficult to make on Earth.

Launch services are worth a potential £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.

UK spaceports will need new skills, supply chains and supporting services, creating high-skilled jobs and opportunities across the country. For example, Spaceport Cornwall and the Centre for Space Technologies expect to create 150 jobs.

Through initiatives such as our LogoLiftOff! and Nanosat Design competitions, the UK Space Agency is also harnessing launch as a platform to encourage young people to pursue STEM subjects in order to help grow the UK’s future space talent pipeline.


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