The first space launch from UK soil is due to take place today (9 January) as part of Virgin Orbit’s Start Me Up Mission.
Thousands of spectators are expected to flock to Spaceport, Cornwall Airport Newquay to witness the launch which has been described as an “iconic moment” in British history.
Named after the Rolling Stones 1981 hit single, the mission will see a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft nicknamed “Cosmic Girl” launch satellites into space from Europe for the first time.
The launch was originally expected to take place before the New Year, but due to technical and regulatory issues was pushed back.
So, what is the Start Me Up mission and how can you watch the space launch? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is the Start Me Up mission?
The Start Me Up mission from Virgin Orbit will see the UK launch sattelites into space for the very first time. A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft nicknamed “Cosmic Girl” will launch satellites for both private companies and government organisations.
According to Virgin Orbit the missions of these satellites span topics such as: “improving life on planet Earth, including reducing the environmental impact of production; preventing illegal trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism” as well as “national security”.
The space launch which takes off from Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay, will see “Cosmic Girl” carry a rocket named LauncherOne, which will then detach and travel into the Earth’s low orbit where it will release the satellites.
Speaking about the upcoming launch Dan Hart, CEO at Virgin Orbit, said: “What an incredible honour it is for us to be part of something as monumental as bringing Britain into the business of launch. Working with our partners across the UK government, we’re starting up a new capability that will serve the people, the economy, and the security of the UK.”
Whilst UK Minister of Science Nusrat Ghani discussed the job opportunities in this growing sector, he said: “As we move ever closer to the first satellite launch from U.K. soil, it’s excellent to see the progress being made by Virgin Orbit, Spaceport Cornwall and those across government in delivering this historic mission, the first of its kind in Europe.”
Adding: “With 47,000 jobs across the U.K., our growing space industry is a vital part of the economy and has an important role to play in catalysing investment, generating growth and prosperity. I’m looking forward to working with this innovative sector and delivering on our National Space Strategy.”
What time is the space launch from Newquay?
Virgin Orbit plans to launch “Cosmic Girl” on Monday 9 January at 10:15pm GMT.
Speaking about the upcoming launch Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall described it as a “huge moment” for Cornwall, she said: “It’s time to Start Us Up! This is a huge moment for us all in Cornwall as the journey to U.K. space launch has officially begun. The mission name and patch reflect and embrace the incredible partnerships between our two countries and teams.”
She added: “This is a phenomenal moment with incredible international collaboration. Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency and all of our partners are breaking new ground to transform access to space across the world from right here in Cornwall. My team at Spaceport Cornwall have worked so hard to get this far and we wish everyone the best of luck as the launch window opens, we are ready.”
How can I watch the space launch in Cornwall?
Thousands of spectators are expected to travel to Newquay for the launch, with tickets for the event selling out quickly. For those unable to get tickets or to travel to Cornwall, the launch will be available to watch online. Virgin Orbit will be livestreaming the event on their YouTube channel, with viewers being able to tune in from 9.15 pm GMT.
Why is the mission called Start Me Up?
The project is named after the Rolling Stones hit single Start Me Up, which debuted on their 1981 album, Tattoo You and was later released on the Forty Licks compilation by Virgin Records in 2002.
Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, described the launch as an “iconic moment” in British history, he said: “Seeing Virgin Orbit’s aircraft take off is an exciting reminder that we are close to the first launch from UK soil and first launch of a satellite from Europe. This will be an iconic moment in the history of UK space endeavours, so it is fitting that the mission has been named after a song from the Rolling Stones, one of the UK’s most iconic bands.”