UK's first satellite launch will happen this year say Spaceport Cornwall bosses

UK Space Agency say preparations are ramping up for the rocket launch that will happen in the new few weeks. Credit: Spaceport Cornwall/Virgin Orbit

Bosses at Spaceport say they still expect to launch the UK's first-ever satellite this year.

The announcement comes as they continue to wait for licences from the Civil Aviation Authority.

The launch was initially scheduled for the beginning of the month (November) and will be the first of its kind from UK soil.

Ian Annett, from UK Space Agency, said: "It is a very complex operation. There are technical aspects, and weather aspects too. Certainly, we’re on track to deliver a launch in 2022.

"We're still working through the licenses at the moment. It is immensely complicated. The primary driver here is safety.

"This is a normal process. It hasn’t been granted yet but that’s to be expected."

Speaking at a conference today: Cllr Louis Gardner, Ian Annett UK Space Agency, Dan Hart Virgin Orbit, Melissa Thorpe, Spaceport Cornwall

The Virgin Orbit plane and rocket arrived at Cornwall Airport Newquay in October ahead of the mission.

Matt Archer from UK Space Agency says preparations are ramping up.

He said: "So we're really close. We're in the final few weeks. It's one that has taken a long time to get here.

"There's some final preparations that Virgin Orbit have to make some final steps of the licensing process.

"Which I know people are working hard on in HMG. So we're getting there.

"It's close, but certainly, in the next few weeks, we'll be launching a rocket."

In total seven satellites will be loaded into Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket for the "Start Me Up" mission.

The mission will be using a converted Boeing 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl.

It will fly the LauncherOne rocket to around 35,000ft before deploying the rocket mid-air, the plane will then head back to Newquay, while the rocket propels the satellites into earth's low orbit.

Melissa Thorpe from Spaceport Cornwall said: "We’re ready to go. We’re just here to enable what Dan and his team at Virgin Orbit need to do.

"We’re working really closely with the residents about what happens on the launch date.

"We’re shifting from the operations perspective to now handling the event of the launch and making sure everyone's safe. A lot of the hard work is done."

Around 400 people are expected to attend Spaceport today and tomorrow where many of the world's media have ascended to find out more about the project.

There has been no confirmation of timings but the team are confident the launch will happen this year Credit: ITV West Country

Talking about the licensing, Dan Hart from Virgin Obit said "We’re in a little bit of a tricky spot right now but we’re processing.

"Clearly the regulatory process and working through has been a lot of work but our purpose is opening up space for our customers and places like Cornwall here in the UK. We’re jointly opening up a gateway to space.

"It's a great beginning. It’s a door slamming open. The British space sector has been a vibrant one for decades.

"I think the ability to fly to space is clearly an important link to go to space. So it’s the beginning of a huge push forward through that door."

The Cornish site will be used to track an uncrewed Orion capsule that will travel around the moon and back, to test systems ahead of a crewed flight in 2024.

It will also be used to communicate with a number of small satellites that are being launched as part of the mission.

A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority said: "We are assessing the evidence supporting a range of space industry licence applications to determine if they meet the statutory requirements for granting space licences for UK launch, which include safety, security and the environment.

"We’re committed to helping drive forward a UK space sector and continue to work proactively with all parties.

"As part of this, it is important we do so with a view to prioritising public safety, and be satisfied that steps being taken by operators manage safety risks to as low as reasonably practicable."