2023 is about to start with something huge for Cornwall - both literally and metaphorically - as it's about to launch its first rocket into space.
In just a few days Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin Orbit will operate the UK’s first space launch, from Newquay in Cornwall.
What is happening at Spaceport Cornwall for the Virgin Orbit rocket launch?
A rocket is going to be launched into space from Cosmic Girl - a former commercial aircraft originally part of the Virgin Atlantic fleet which once carried passengers more than 800 times before being "up-cycled" as Virgin Orbit's mobile launch pad and mobile mission control in 2017.
Cosmic Girl carries Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket under its wing to an altitude of 35,000ft before dropping the rocket over the ocean.
After the drop, LauncherOne ignites in mid-air before traveling onwards out of the earth's atmosphere to Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Cosmic Girl can deploy satellites above inclement weather to unique destinations from sites that were never previously able to access orbital launch due to the limitations of traditional ground launch platforms, making it one of the most responsive launch platforms in the world.
Cornwall was chosen to host the impressive launch due to having the second longest runway in the UK.
Where is Spaceport Cornwall?
Cornwall Airport in Newquay is home to the UK's first satellite launch base in 50 years - Spaceport is within it.
It will be one of the only places in the world where you can be on a passenger aeroplane and look out your window to see a launch to space about to happen.
What is Spaceport Cornwall?
A spaceport in general is a site for launching or receiving spacecraft. Spaceport Cornwall has an ambition to provide a safe, dedicated and responsible way to access space, capable of supporting small satellite launches and connecting people, businesses and ideas.
Spaceport is in a large hangar on the Cornwall Airport Newquay site, next to the runway.
What will happen when Virgin Orbit launch from Spaceport Cornwall?
The Modified Boeing 747-400's will carry a rocket which has seven payloads on it (these are boxes about the size of a shoebox belonging to different companies containing their own satellites).
The rocket will be carried under the right wing of the aircraft as it takes off from Newquay Airport. It won't be a vertical rocket launch like you see in the movies - Cosmic Girl will take off like a domestic flight would.
The aircraft will then release the rocket at some point over the ocean where it will continue to ascend into space carrying the satellite.
When will the UK's first space launch happen?
The UK's first rocket launch is scheduled to happen at Spaceport Cornwall at around midnight on Monday 9 January.
There will be a marquee at Spaceport selling food and refreshments.
How can you watch a live stream of Virgin Orbit's UK launch from Spaceport Cornwall?
A live stream of the space launch from Cornwall will be available to watch on this Youtube channel for you to watch from the comfort of your own home. It will also be streamed on ITV News' website.
What will be on board Cosmic Girl rocket when it takes off from Spaceport Cornwall?
Cosmic Girl will carry seven payloads (which are boxes about the size of a toaster) into Lower Earth Orbit from Cornwall via the LauncherOne rocket on the aptly named “Start Me Up” mission.
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.
IOD-3 AMBER (aka IOD-3) – Developed by Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies and built by AAC Clyde Space, all based in the UK. IOD-3 Amber is expected to be the first of more than 20 Amber satellites to provide space-based Maritime Domain Awareness data to users.
Prometheus-2 –Two cubesats owned by the Ministry of Defence’s 'Defence Science & Technology Laboratory'. These satellites will support MOD science and technology activities both in orbit and on the ground.
CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment) – CIRCE is part of a joint mission between the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the U.S Naval Research Laboratory.
DOVER – Developed by RHEA Group in the UK, it is the company’s first satellite in its 30-year history. The satellite is being co-funded through the European Space Agency’s Navigation Program and built by Open Cosmos. DOVER is a SmallSat that was created as a pathfinder for resilient global navigation satellite systems.
ForgeStar-0 – Is the first ever satellite designed and built in Wales. The ForgeStar-0 satellite has been designed by Cardiff-based startup Space Forge, which is creating the world's first returnable and reusable satellite platform to harness the power of microgravity and potentially transform manufacturing.
AMAN – Oman’s first orbital mission, it is a single earth observation satellite meant to demonstrate the future feasibility of a larger constellation and was developed after a memorandum of understanding among the Sultanate of Oman, Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev, Poland-originated AI data analytics specialists TUATARA, and Omani-based merging technology innovator ETCO.
STORK-6 – Stork-6 is the next instalment of Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev’s STORK constellation. Virgin Orbit previously launched two spacecraft in this constellation on a previous launch.