UK Regulator Grants First Spaceport License

Credit: Virgin Orbit / Greg Robinson

LONDON—The UK’s space launch regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, has awarded the country’s first spaceport license to Spaceport Cornwall.

The license, announced Nov. 16, helps pave the way for the first planned orbital launch from the UK mainland for Virgin Orbit’s “Start Me Up” mission using its LauncherOne space vehicle that will be carried by its modified Boeing 747 airliner named “Cosmic Girl.” The mission will be operated from Spaceport Cornwall facilities located at Cornwall Airport Newquay. Both the rocket and 747 carrier aircraft arrived in the UK during October in readiness for the launch.

The license award, the CAA states, shows that the spaceport meets appropriate safety, security and environmental requirements to operate, and has the required infrastructure, equipment and services for horizontal launch.

According to the UK Space Agency, the license allows Virgin Orbit to begin wet dress rehearsals ahead of a proposed launch, the first of its kind on European soil.

However, Virgin Orbit still is awaiting launch licenses from the regulator, as well as airspace clearance approvals to enable the launch, which will take place off the southern coast of Ireland.

The CAA says it is in “advanced stages with Virgin Orbit on its applications for launch and range licenses, as well as the satellite operators, ahead of a proposed first UK launch.”

“This is another major milestone to enable this country to become a leading launch nation,” said Richard Moriarty, CAA’s chief executive. “Our work does not stop with this license decision as we continue to assess other license applications and oversee the effectiveness of licensed activities, all enabling the UK’s space sector to grow safely and securely.”

The CAA said it has already approved 150 satellite licenses since it became the UK space regulator in July 2021.

“Obtaining this license marks a point of distinction for Spaceport Cornwall, and is a key preparatory milestone for this first orbital launch from the UK,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said.

“We appreciate the efforts of the British regulatory agencies with the support of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in this first-time licensing process,” Hart added.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.