UK prepares for a space flight launch

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By Euronews  with AP
Virgin Orbit 747 carrying orbital rocket.
Virgin Orbit 747 carrying orbital rocket.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Final arrangements are being made in an English seaside resort ahead of several satellites being blasted into space on Monday night in the first rocket launch from UK soil.

If all goes to plan, the launch of the Start Me Up mission will take place at Spaceport Cornwall near Newquay in Cornwall.

Named in tribute to The Rolling Stones' 1981 hit, the mission involves a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket.

The 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl, will take off horizontally from the new facility while carrying the rocket.

"This airport's really good at landing and taking off 747s, you know," Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall told British broadcaster Sky News.  "And that's what this is. It just has a really cool rocket under its wing this time."

The initial window for the historic mission will open at 10.16pm (GMT) on Monday, with additional back-up dates continuing into mid and late January

Around an hour into the flight, the rocket will be released at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.

The plane will then return to the spaceport while the rocket ignites its engine and takes multiple small satellites, with a variety of civil and defence applications, into orbit.

The mission contains many firsts: the first orbital launch from the UK, the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, and the first commercial launch from western Europe.

The RAF pilot at the helm will be Matthew Stannard, who told Sky it was "an incredible sight" to watch the rocket go.

In the past, satellites produced in the UK have needed to be sent to foreign spaceports to make their journey into space.

UK Science Minister George Freeman said the UK had been "looking at our opportunities, given our geography."

It was originally hoped the launch could take place before Christmas but owing to technical and regulatory issues it had to be pushed into 2023.