Marking a historical milestone for the United Kingdom, the first-ever orbital launch from the country’s soil is slated to take off in November using Long Beach-based Virgin Orbit’s innovative system, the company announced Tuesday.
Dubbed “Start Me Up” after the 1981 Rolling Stones song, the launch is a joint mission between the U.S. and U.K. governments.
“This will be an iconic moment in the history of U.K. space endeavors, so it is fitting that the mission has been named after a song from the Rolling Stones, one of the U.K.’s most iconic bands,” U.K. Space Agency Deputy CEO Ian Annett said in a statement.
Virgin Orbit has completed the first round of wet dress rehearsals for the mission in California. The first of the company’s equipment departed Long Beach Sunday and is due to arrive at Spaceport Cornwall today.
“This is a huge moment for us all in Cornwall as the journey to U.K. space launch has officially begun,” Melissa Thorpe, head of the spaceport, said in a statement. “The mission name and patch reflect and embrace the incredible partnerships between our two countries and teams.”
Cosmic Girl, the modified Boeing 747 that serves as Virgin Orbit’s airborne launch pad, will arrive at the spaceport later this week, along with ground support equipment and the LauncherOne rocket that will carry the payloads to space, according to the company.
Not only will the impending mission mark the first orbital launch from the U.K., it will be the first commercial launch from Western Europe and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, which also has plans to take its services to Japan in the coming months as well as Australia, Brazil, Poland and South Korea.
“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 catalyzing investment, generating growth and prosperity,” U.K. Minister of Science Nusrat Ghani said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to working with this innovative sector and delivering on our National Space Strategy.”
The mission will carry eight small satellites into orbit for numerous government agencies and private companies. The flight manifest includes:
- IOD-3 AMBER: The first of more than 20 such satellites developed by Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, and built by AAC Clyde Space, that will provide space-based maritime domain awareness data.
- Prometheus-2: Two cubesats owned by the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD), co-funded with Airbus Defence and Space, who are designing them jointly with In-Space Missions, to support the MOD’s science and technology activities in orbit and on the ground.
- CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment): A joint mission between the U.K.’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
- DOVER: A pathfinder for resilient global navigation satellite systems developed by RHEA Group, co-funded through the European Space Agency’s Navigation Program and built by Open Cosmos.
- ForgeStar-0: A returnable and reusable platform to enable in-space manufacturing developed by Space Forge of Wales.
- AMAN: An earth observation satellite meant to demonstrate the future feasibility of a larger constellation developed after a memorandum of understanding among the Sultanate of Oman, Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev, Poland-originated AI data analytics specialists TUATARA and Omani-based merging technology innovator ETCO.
- STORK-6: The next installment of Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev’s STORK constellation, for which Virgin Orbit has previously launched two spacecraft.
The satellites’ functions aim to reduce the environmental impact of production, improve national security and prevent illegal trafficking, smuggling and terrorism, according to Virgin Orbit.
“Start Me Up” will be the fifth consecutive Virgin Orbit launch to carry payloads for both private and public customers, according to the announcement. The launch service was acquired by the National Reconnaissance Office from Virgin Orbit National Systems, a subsidiary that serves classified customers.
“What an incredible honor it is for us to be part of something as monumental as bringing Britain into the business of launch,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. “Working with our partners across the U.K. government, we’re starting up a new capability that will serve the people, the economy and the security of the U.K.”