Rocket to be Launched into Space from Virgin Boeing 747

In the remote region of Cornwall, at the far southwestern tip of England, locals have recently been witnessing an unusual sight. A unique plane has been seen flying low overhead, taking off from the runway at Newquay Airport – the UK’s 29th largest airport – and circling the skies above the coast before landing again.

This is no ordinary plane. It’s a repurposed Boeing 747, known as the “Queen of the Skies”, and it’s being used for the space race. The plane is making trial flights before participating in the United Kingdom’s first orbital space launch next month. The launch will take place from Spaceport Cornwall, which shares the airport’s 1.7-mile regular runway.

Marc Andrew, a local from Newquay, visited the spaceport to see the aircraft land. He described the experience as amazing and is looking forward to telling his son about it when he’s older. He plans to return for the November launch.

The plane, named Cosmic Girl, is part of Virgin Orbit’s plan to launch seven satellites into space. It’s a former passenger jumbo jet that was in service with Virgin Atlantic until 2015. It has been modified to carry LauncherOne, a rocket made in California that will be launched into Earth’s orbit.

Next month, Cosmic Girl will take off from Newquay’s clifftop runway with LauncherOne under its wing. Once the 747 reaches 34,000 feet, it will release the rocket. Inside will be seven payloads, or satellites, which will start circling the planet in low Earth orbit. A trial last year saw the rocket – released from under the 747’s left wing – traveling at up to 17,000 miles an hour as it zoomed into space.

Using a 747 for a horizontal launch enables a “broader range of orbits than would be possible from a traditional ground-launched system,” according to a statement by Virgin Orbit. This event will mark the first orbital space launch for the UK and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit. It will also be Europe’s first satellite launch, according to Ian Annett, deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency.

LauncherOne completed its first full launch rehearsal in Long Beach, California, on October 2, before being flown to the UK last Friday to meet Cosmic Girl, which arrived in Cornwall on October 11. Cosmic Girl completed a nearly three-hour test flight around Cornwall and Southwest England on October 14, with locals noting it flying low over their gardens.

Virgin Orbit’s chief pilot, Matthew Stannard, who will fly the 747 for the launch, said: “It feels amazing to bring Cosmic Girl home to the UK. We are weeks away now from the first UK launch at Spaceport Cornwall so it’s all very real.” Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, added: “Seeing the infrastructure in place makes our launch ambitions a reality.”

Virgin Orbit is planning to bring horizontal launches to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea.


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