Virgin Orbit confirms partnership with RAF

Posted on 10 Aug 2019 and read 791 times
Virgin Orbit confirms partnership with RAF Virgin Orbit (, which plans to launch satellites from Cornwall, has announced a new partnership with the Royal Air Force to provide a rapid-response launch service — beginning as early as next year.

This will involve a LauncherOne rocket, carried under the wing of a Boeing 747 aircraft before being released at altitude for its onward journey into space.

The news follows an announcement by (former) Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt that the Ministry of Defence is committing £30 million to fast-track the launch of a small satellite demonstrator within a year (and that an RAF
test pilot would be assigned to the project).

Glenn Caplin, chief executive of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, which is investing £500,000 in Spaceport Cornwall, said: “This is a huge vote of confidence in Virgin Orbit’s capabilities, and it means that we could see the launch of small satellites from Newquay to support the RAF, in addition to the commercial-satellite launches that Virgin Orbit expects to attract. This announcement should accelerate the company’s plans to set up its European hub in Cornwall.”

The UK Space Agency said in June that it plans to invest more than £7 million in Spaceport Cornwall to give the UK a domestic satellite launch capability for the first time.

A further £12 million could come from Cornwall Council, subject to approval later this year, and this investment would be recouped over time through launch fees.

Because Virgin Orbit uses a conventional aircraft, there is no need to extend the runway at Newquay, and satellite launches would not involve any rockets taking off vertically from the airport.

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