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Virgin Orbit Targets September for First UK Mission 

By | June 28, 2022

Virgin Orbit’s “Above the Clouds” launch on Jan. 13, 2022. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit is looking at a September timeframe for its first mission from the United Kingdom, CEO Dan Hart said in a pre-launch press briefing ahead of its Wednesday launch from the U.S. 

The historic mission will be the first rocket launch from British soil and the first commercial launch from Western Europe. It will launch two cubesats that are a joint mission between the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the United States’ National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), in addition to other payloads

The company previously gave a late-August timeframe for the mission.   

“Cornwall work is proceeding pretty well. It’s the first time space launch has been licensed in the U.K. and the CAA [Civilian Aviation Authority] — their regulatory agency — has been quite engaged with our experts to make sure they understand the system. That kind of dialogue has really helped quite a bit in clarifying their questions and making sure that the regulatory process moves along.” 

Hart said there has been “tremendous interest” from the U.K. government in the launch, and Virgin Orbit is working closely with the Royal Air Force and Spaceport Cornwall. 

A mission control center in Cornwall will be following the June 29 launch in preparation for the U.K.-based mission. 

The launch set for June 29, dubbed “Straight Up,” after Paul Abdul’s hit song, will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, carrying seven satellites for multiple U.S. government agencies. 

As Virgin Orbit works to expand the geographical reach of its air-launched system, the company is also targeting Brazil, and announced a new Brazilian subsidiary on Monday. Hart said during Tuesday’s call that he expects Virgin Orbit to serve Brazilian, Latin American, and other international customers from the Alcântara Launch Center. 

“We’re seeing the globalization of space. Countries are realizing that space is important for their economy, their understanding of their resources, and their region, as well as their national security,” Hart said. “We do think that regionally in South America, Brazil is uniquely placed to be a regional center for space launch. There’s a lot of emphasis at this point for collaboration across countries in space, whether that’s for science, or commercially, or for national security.”