LONDON – ‘Cosmic Girl’, an Ex-Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 aircraft now named ‘Virgin Orbit’, will carry the UK’s first-ever rocket into space from Cornwall’s Newquay Airport.
The Queen of Skies, as named by Boeing for its historic Boeing 747-400 program aircraft, was delivered to Virgin Atlantic in 2001 which was then called ‘Cosmic Girl” and had registration G-VWOW until 2015, before it was transferred to Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbits in the United States and was changed to registration N744VG.
In its service with the Virgin Atlantic, Cosmic Girl has transported more than 2.5 million passengers on over 8,300 flight schedules.
Post its transfer from Virgin Atlantic; the aircraft went into structural change to accommodate its new user, Virgin Galactic, the new-age spaceflight company founded by Sir. Richard Branson developed a prototype program of commercial spaceflight to give rise to space tourism.
The aircraft then continued its journey to its new owner, Virgin Orbit, founded by Sir. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was responsible for several space launches of small satellites by providing space rocket launcher vehicle platforms.
To fit its new purpose, Cosmic Girl’s upper deck has been converted into a control center to accommodate launch engineers, along with 69 feet long rocket slot under its left wing.
The aircraft has been strategically chosen to accommodate heavier payloads along with medications carried out to support Orbital test launches from the test facilities at the Sierra Nevada Desert in the United States.
While performing its next task for the UK, the rocket named LauncherOne will be released from the airframe at an altitude of 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean, upon which the rocket will gain an acceleration of 8000mph before deploying seven satellites payload into its prescribed orbits.
Speaking on this historic occasion, the Head of Spaceport Cornwall, Melissa Thorpe, said that “A converted 747 using a converted airport to get to space is a perfect example of what we are working to achieve at Spaceport Cornwall.”
She further added that the “arrival of this aircraft has proved the eight years of hard work put in by all of us here. By making use of existing assets, we want to set the bar for responsible launch, with ‘space for good’ at its core.”
As the team is gearing up to launch satellites into its orbit, Britain is reclaiming its position as one of the top research & development and manufacturer hub of satellite and space activity, as it held a strong track record for building innovative satellites.
The Cornwall Newquay Airport became the site of the UK government’s Spaceport program in late 2017, with a bid from Cornwall Council and Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.
The new partnership then included Virgin Orbits in the summer of 2018 with the responsibility of developing a Spaceport with a launching site for satellites within three years of timeframe.
Speaking on this remarkable day, Chief Operations Officer of Sattelite Applications Catapult, Lucy Edge, said, “This launch from UK soil marks the start of the next great stage in the UK space story, unlocking commercial access to space from our own back gardens.”