Travel

Virgin Boeing 747 will launch a rocket into space


(CNN) — At the far southwestern tip of England, suspended in the Atlantic, the remote region of Cornwall rarely feels like the center of the world.

But recently locals felt incredibly close as they watched a very special plane fly overhead, take off from the runway at tiny Newquay Airport – the UK’s 29th largest airport – and circle the sky. above the coast before touching back.

It’s not just any plane. Nor is it a normal Boeing 747 as it appears from the ground. In fact, it’s the repurposed ‘Queen of the Skies’ for the space race, performing test flights before taking part in the UK’s first orbital space launch next month. And it will take off from Spaceport Cornwall, which shares the airport’s regular 1.7-mile runway.

Marc Andrew, from nearby Newquay, traveled to the Spaceport after work to see the plane land this week.

“It was amazing to watch, and it will be a great piece of history to tell my little boy when he grows up,” he told CNN. It is now gearing up to return for the November launch.

Cosmic Girl, as the plane was named, is Virgin Orbit’s tender ship to launch seven satellites into space.

A former large passenger carrier in service with Virgin Atlantic until 2015, it has been modified to carry LauncherOne, a California-made rocket that will go into Earth orbit.

Cosmic Girl, a former Virgin Atlantic 747, will take off from Newquay, UK

pristine orbit

Next month, Cosmic Girl will take off from the Newquay clifftop runway with LauncherOne under its wing – and once the 747 reaches 34,000ft, it will launch the rocket.

Inside will be seven payloads, or satellites, which will begin circling the planet in low Earth orbit.

A test last year saw the rocket – emerging from under the 747’s left wing – traveling up to 17,000 miles per hour as it zoomed through space.

A test flight for the locals

Using a 747 for a horizontal launch allows for a “wider range of orbits than would be possible with a traditional ground-launched system,” Virgin Orbit wrote in a statement.

The event will be the first orbital space launch for the UK and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, according to the company. It will also be the first satellite launch in Europe, according to Ian Annett, deputy director general of the British Space Agency.

LauncherOne completed its first full launch rehearsal in Long Beach, California on October 2, before flying to the UK last Friday to meet Cosmic Girl, who arrived in Cornwall on October 11.

Cosmic Girl made an almost three-hour test flight around Cornwall and South West England on October 14, with Cornwall residents noting it flew low over their gardens.

Rocket LauncherOne has now joined Cosmic Girl at Newquay Spaceport.

Rocket LauncherOne has now joined Cosmic Girl at Newquay Spaceport.

pristine orbit

Virgin Orbit Chief Pilot Matthew Stannard, who will fly the 747 for the launch, said: “It’s amazing to be bringing Cosmic Girl back to the UK. We’re just weeks away from the first UK launch at Spaceport Cornwall, so everything is very real.”

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “Seeing the infrastructure in place makes our launch ambitions a reality.”

Hoping to see more Cosmic Girls? Virgin Orbit plans to bring horizontal launches to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea.

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