Spaceport: Historic day for Wales as Cardiff company launches country's first satellite into space

Josh Western from Space Forge discusses the work Wales' first satellite will do in finding new material from space.

History is being made on Monday with the first Welsh satellite to be launched into space.

It's part of the UK's first ever orbital launch from home soil which is taking place in Cornwall.

Several satellites with different aims are being sent into space, but one from Cardiff-based company Space Forge is being launched to make and retrieve materials that can't be made on earth.

The company's satellite known as ForgeStar-0 is aiming to harness the benefits of zero gravity and extreme temperatures in space to create valuable materials.

Josh Western from Space Forge said the hope is to make materials and components in space that are found in everyday items.

"Our main focus is next generation, semi-conductors, so the materials that make up computer chips, you find them in your mobile, you find them in your oven, all the way through to finding them in your car and typically in satellites.

"Ultimately we've reached the limit to where we are with today's semi-conductors that we can make on the ground. Going to space enables us to produce semi-conductors that we simply can't make here.

"When we bring those chips back to earth, that allows us to reduce energy use by about 50% in most major infrastructure."

For Josh he said the idea behind the Space Forge satellite has grown from humble beginnings.

"We've been building Space Forge for about five years now, so it's a lot of things that have come together, at last.

"At the start of the pandemic, we were two people in a garage. Today we are 44 people, we represent different countries and we're based in Cardiff."

The mission from Cornwall, titled Start Me Up in honour of the Rolling Stones' 1981 hit, will contain many firsts including the first orbital launch from the United Kingdom; the first international launch for Virgin Orbit; and the first commercial launch from western Europe.

It is a collaborative effort between between the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA), Cornwall Council, the Royal Air Force, and Virgin Orbit.

It is carrying satellites from seven customers to space including commercial and government agencies. It's the fifth consecutive launch by Virgin Orbit.

The LauncherOne rocket from Virgin Orbit is conducting the mission and is now mated to its carrier aircraft, a Boeing 747 dubbed "Cosmic Girl", at Spaceport Cornwall.

LauncherOne has previously launched 33 satellites into space. Credit: PA

The rockets which are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, will be air-launched from Cosmic Girl.

Thirty three satellites have already been carried by LauncherOne to their precise desired orbit.

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has said "what better example, of Welsh innovation, than Wales' first ever satellite. Cardiff-based Space Forge's ForgeStar-0 due for launch in Cornwall later tonight, it's designed and built here in Wales.

"Designed by a group of talented engineers, scientists and technologists and all of us will be looking out for a successful launch this evening."

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, said: "We are entering a new era for space in the UK with the first ever satellite launch from UK soil and from Europe.

This is a significant landmark for the nation, the UK Space Agency and for all those who have worked so hard over many years to make our ambitions to create a commercial space launch capability a reality.

"The development of new orbital launch capabilities is already generating growth, catalysing investment and creating jobs in Cornwall and other communities across the United Kingdom.

"This will lead to new careers, improved productivity and inspire the next generation of space professionals, and this is just the beginning.

"I look forward to seeing more launches from other UK spaceports over the next year, putting us firmly on the map as Europe's leading destination for commercial small satellite launch."

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said: "After ensuring that every technical aspect is sound and every regulation and code has been satisfied, it is gratifying to see this historic endeavor on the verge of coming to fruition.

"This launch represents the opening of a new era in the British space industry and new partnerships across industry, government, and allies. Space is already responsible for tens of thousands of jobs across the UK, the global industry is growing quickly, and so is the potential.

"And this launch is demonstrating that with the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne system an airport can become a spaceport that sends humankind's innovations on their journey."

Spaceport Cornwall received the United Kingdom's first-ever spaceport license from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in November.

In December, Virgin Orbit was issued first-of-their-kind launch and range control licenses, which ensured all regulatory, safety, and environmental requirements have been met.

And this week, the CAA announced that all of the satellites flying on this mission have received their licenses as well.

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