Virgin Orbit plans rocket launches from UK airport

Virgin Orbit is jetting back to the UK

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit announced plans to conduct the first ever flights to space from the UK.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spinoff is partnering with Spaceport Cornwall and the UK Space Agency, and plans to conduct orbital rocket launches from Cornwall Airport Newquay in south-west England by 2021.

The Long Beach, California-based company doesn’t use the traditional vertical launch method. Instead, it drops a launch rocket from the wing of a Boeing 747 jet — known as Cosmic Girl — flying at 35,000 feet.

Virgin Orbit focuses on launching small satellites known as cubesats, which are cheaper to build.

Once Virgin Orbit’s service starts operating from the Cornwall airport, it’ll be be the first location where launches to space and commercial flights happen side by side, the company notes. This will be its second launch site — the primary location is Mojave Air & Space Port in California.

Spaceport Cornwall says the project will create nearly 500 new jobs in Cornwall and bring £25 million ($33 million) to the local economy in the next decade.

Virgin Orbit didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about plans to launch from other locations.

Branson wants to make Virgin Galactic the first commercial spaceline, with tickets costing $250,000 a passenger. It conducted its second successful test launch in May, four years after a fatal crash caused the company a major setback.

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