UK launches consultation on Virgin Orbit launch

TAMPA, Fla. – The UK announced a public consultation on July 22 to assess the environmental impact of the country’s first space launch, as part of the licensing process to release Virgin Orbit’s mission this year.

Britain’s space regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), is asking for comment on an environmental assessment by Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall, a government and industry consortium providing the mission’s intended launch site.

The assessment, required to obtain operating permits from the CAA, covers the steps Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall are taking to assess the environmental impact of using Newquay Cornwall Airport in the South West of England as a landing zone for the air launch system.

Virgin Orbit has proposed to conduct two horizontal launches per year from Spaceport Cornwall until 2030, the CAA said.

The LauncherOne air launch system uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft that carries a two-stage rocket under its wing, and has so far completed five orbital missions in the US.

The fifth and fourth consecutive successful missions placed a series of payloads for the US Space Force on July 2.

The CAA’s consultation closes 22 Aug.

Virgin Orbit also needs a license from the UK Marine Management Organization (MMO), which includes another public consultation expected to close on August 19.

LauncherOne is scheduled to fly in September from Spaceport Cornwall, which is operated by a consortium comprising Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency, Goonhilly Earth Station and the Cornwall Council Centralized Authority.

“This is the first time the Civil Aviation Authority has consulted on an organization’s environmental assessment surrounding a space launch,” CAA policy director Tim Johnson said in a statement.

“As the UK space regulator, it is important that we assess environmental impacts before issuing permits, and we are working closely with the Marine Management Organization to ensure the voices of Newquay residents and businesses are heard before final decisions are made.”

Payloads for Virgin Orbit’s first UK mission include two Prometheus 2 cubesats with pathfinder experiments supporting the UK’s Minerva remote sensing constellation.

The mission will also carry a pathfinder satellite for positioning, navigation and timing for the RHEA Group, and a joint experiment developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory and the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory to study changes in Earth’s upper atmosphere. .

Elsewhere in the UK, companies are racing to perform the first-ever vertical launch into orbit from UK soil.

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