Space Forge and Virgin Orbit aim to launch first satellite from UK over summer

A UK startup and California-based Virgin Orbit have teamed up to launch satellite from Cornwall

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The first-ever satellite launch from UK soil may take place this summer, as Cardiff-based start-up Space Forge teams up with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit to launch from the new Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay, Cornwall.

“We’re thrilled to be making UK history with our first launch,” Space Forge CEO Joshua Western said in a statement announcing the partnership with Virgin Orbit.

“We will demonstrate the use of space for good through in-space manufacturing and reliable return and it’s brilliant that both Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall share our ambitions. This is the start of a great collaboration and we are so excited to see where it goes.”

The signage at Spaceport Cornwall

Space Forge has developed a satellite platform it calls ForgeStar that the company plans to use to offer microgravity as a service for high tech manufacturing— a ForgeStar satellite will launch with a paid payload, spend some time in orbit and then return so the material can be recovered and the satellite refurbished, according to the Space Forge Website.

The Long Beach, California-based Virgin Orbit will provide a LauncherOne rocket for the first launch of the ForgeStar platform, intended for some time this summer, though the announcement did not specify a specific date.

The Space Forge, Virgin Orbit launch could well make history, as no rocket carrying a payload to orbit has ever launched from UK soil.

The Black Arrow rocket programme was developed on the Isle of Wight in the 1960s, but the test flights of that rocket took place in the Australian outback.

Some purists may dispute the launch will count as taking place on UK soil, however, given that the Virgin Orbit rocket, when it ignites, won’t be anywhere near soil of any kind. The LauncherOne rocket doesn’t blast off from the ground, but is carried aloft by a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft and then released before the rocket ignites and carries its payload to space.

And Space Forge and Virgin Orbit are not the only companies hoping to launch rockets from UK soil soon.

On 3 February, the Forres, Scotland-based Orbital Express Launch Ltd., also known as Orbex, applied for a launch license from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Orbex plans to launch small satellites from another spaceport, Space Hub Sutherland, in Scotland which will soon be under construction. But the company could begin test launches from its launch site in Kinloss sometime this year.

The Orbex Prime rocket takes off from the ground.

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