A computer-generated image of Virgin Orbit’s launch system at Spaceport Cornwall. Image Credit: Virgin Orbit
New investment in the UK space sector could see both horizontal and vertical rocket launches take place from British soil in the coming years.
Announcements by the UK government and UK Space Agency have revealed plans to start launching satellites from Britain.
The news was announced at the Farnborough International Airshow on 16 July.
The first satellite launch from British soil in 50 years could happen in the next three years, following an agreement between Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit.
Virgin Orbit has selected Cornwall for one of the first launches of its LauncherOne system outside of the US.
The launches are planned to take place from a spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021.
These ‘horizontal’ launches will see a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft carrying a LauncherOne rocket under its wing.
It will then fly over the Atlantic and release the rocket at around 35,000 feet.
The rocket will then carry the satellite into Earth orbit.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket will be launched from aircraft taking off at Spaceport Cornwall © Virgin Orbit
Also announced is news that aerospace company Lockheed Martin is to establish vertical launch operations in Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland.
It will also develop space technologies in Reading following two UK Space Agency grants totalling £23.5 million.
£5.5 million will also go to UK company Orbex to develop a new rocket for launch from Sutherland.
The launch vehicle will deliver small satellites into Earth orbit.
Currently, Britain lacks any means to launch satellites into space.
The UK government has already announced its target of commencing commercial spaceflight from British soil before the end of the decade, and increasing the UK’s share of the global space economy groom 6.5 to 10 per cent.