First-ever UK space flight set for January 9th

Virgin Orbit's 'Start Me Up' mission will carry satellites from seven customers to space.

Virgin Orbit

In a few days, the first orbital space flight taking off from UK soil might be launching from Spaceport Cornwell. Virgin Orbit has announced that the initial window for its historic "Start Me Up" mission will open on January 9th, Monday, at 22:16 UTC (5:15PM Eastern Time). If the launch needs to be pushed back due to technical issues or inclement weather conditions, the company has back-up dates lined up throughout the month.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved the licenses Virgin Orbit needs to perform launch activities in the UK back in December, following its approval of Spaceport Cornwall's first launch license. Virgin Orbit is working with the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA), Cornwall Council and the Royal Air Force for this mission.

Seeing as Start Me Up is the "first" in several ways — it's also the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, as well as the first commercial launch from western Europe — the private space corp said it will "maintain a conservative posture with regard to system health, weather, and all other elements of scheduling." That ups the probability of a delay, unless everything falls into place for Virgin Orbit on Monday. Even so, the LauncherOne orbital launch vehicle that will be used for this mission is now attached to Cosmic Girl, the Boeing 747 aircraft that will serve as its first stage launch platform. The company had to transport LauncherOne, which was manufactured in Long Beach, California, to the UK to make the journey possible.

In addition to making history, the mission will ferry satellites from seven customers, both commercial and government, to orbit. Its payload include CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment), which is a joint project between the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the US Naval Research Laboratory, and two CubeSats for the UK Ministry of Defense's Prometheus-2 initiative.