All systems ‘GO’ for historic UK Virgin Orbit launch

The Virgin Orbit 747 aircraft above the clouds.
Photo Credit: Virgin Orbit

LONDON – Partners for the United Kingdom’s first orbital launch have announced that the initial window for the historic Start Me Up mission will officially open on Monday, 9 January at 22:16 UTC with additional back-up dates continuing into mid and late January. The launch will take place from Spaceport Cornwall.

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

The Start Me Up mission will carry satellites from seven customers to space, including commercial and government payloads from several nations and a collaborative US-UK mission.

The LauncherOne system that will conduct the mission is now mated to its carrier aircraft, a Boeing 747 dubbed Cosmic Girl, at Spaceport Cornwall.

Photo: Virgin Orbit carrier aircraft “Cosmic Girl”
Photo Credits: Virgin Orbit

View the launch livestream

You can watch the launch live from 2100 UTC Monday January 9 via the livestream here.

Launch prep complete


On Thursday last week, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system successfully completed an end-to-end launch rehearsal, taking the integrated system through to the loading of propellants and proceeding through terminal count, resulting in the verification of the health of the system and readiness of the team. 

Given the number of “firsts” being executed for this launch – the first orbital launch from UK soil or from anywhere in western Europe – Virgin Orbit and its partners will maintain a conservative posture with regard to system health, weather, and all other elements of scheduling.

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

In late 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.

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

‘Start Me Up’


Start Me Up will be the fifth consecutive Virgin Orbit launch to carry payloads for both private companies and government agencies.

All of the prior 33 satellites were carried by LauncherOne to their precise desired orbit, while demonstrating the ability to fly through and above inclement weather, integrate rapid-call up payloads, and reach a broader range of orbits than would be possible from a traditional ground-launch system.

The launch was acquired by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from Virgin Orbit National Systems, a Virgin Orbit U.S. subsidiary serving classified customers, as the first task order on NRO’s Streamlined Launch Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity Contract, or “SLIC.” 

The missions of the satellites span a wide range of activities aimed at improving life on Earth, including reducing the environmental impact of production; preventing illegal trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism; and a host of national security functions.

The full Start Me Up manifest is available here.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, and are air-launched from the wing of a converted Boeing 747-400 aircraft named “Cosmic Girl.”

Virgin Orbit’s unique air-launch platform can take off from any runway long enough to handle a Boeing 747.

Not reliant on traditional spaceports that support vertical launches, this capability creates a new level of mobility for satellite launch, thereby enabling sovereign launch capability in new markets.

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