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Aviation body wants views on rocket plans of Virgin Orbit

The race for first space launch from UK soil (or airspace) continues

The UK's Civilian Aviation Authority has launched a public consultation on the environmental effects of the plans of Virgin Orbit at a base on the southwest coast of England.

At present, Virgin Orbit seems set to win the race for first launch from UK soil (or rather, the airspace west of Cornwall, since the LauncherOne two-stage rocket is dropped from a modified Boeing 747-400 dubbed Cosmic Girl.)

Rocket fans hoping for a flurry of flights are sadly in for a disappointment. Virgin Orbit is applying for an operator license and the proposals are for a mere two horizontal launches per year from Spaceport Cornwall (Cornwall Airport Newquay) until 2030. This is considerably more than the UK has historically managed, however.

Coupled with the potential vertical launches from other sites in the UK, such as SaxaVord and Sutherland spaceport, and other rocketeers (such as Orbex or Skyrora), there is the potential for many more than two launches to orbit per year.

As for Virgin Orbit, its application and the assessment note the point at which the rocket will be released (approximately 35,000 feet in altitude, to the west of the UK and southwest of Ireland) with a trajectory south-southwest over the Atlantic Ocean.

The lengthy Assessment of Environmental Effects document [PDF], prepared for both Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall, goes into detail regarding the proposals. The drop point will be approximately 130 nautical miles (240km) west of Cornwall Airport Newquay and include a Aircraft and Ship Hazard Area. The first stage of LauncherOne will fall into the ocean approximately 625 nautical miles (1,160km) from the drop point, with the payload fairing being jettisoned shortly after.

Integration, processing and the storage of hazardous materials will all come under scrutiny before a conclusion is issued.

The consultation closes on August 19, 2022. In March, Virgin Orbit applied for a marine licence from the Marine Management Organization (MMOS) with consultation also set to close on August 19.

Should all go well, and applications be approved, there is a very good chance that the UK's first space launch could occur as soon as September 2022 and begin somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. ®

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