On Monday (local time), a modified jumbo jet launched a Virgin Orbit rocket into space from the Atlantic Ocean, marking the first effort to send satellites into orbit from Western Europe.
This was the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, a company formed by British entrepreneur Richard Branson. The rocket placed nine tiny satellites for mixed civil and military usage into orbit. The NASDAQ-listed corporation has already undertaken four identical launches from California.
Hundreds of people celebrated when "Cosmic Girl," a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, took off from Cornwall in southwest England. Approximately an hour into the trip, the aircraft discharged the rocket at a height of roughly 10,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ireland.
The rocket was subsequently launched into orbit, while the aircraft, piloted by a member of the Royal Air Force, returned to Cornwall.
Some satellites are designed to monitor the United Kingdom's defense, while others are intended for navigational technology companies and other enterprises. One Welsh business wants to produce electrical components and other materials in space.
"This is the beginning of a new era for the United Kingdom in terms of launch capabilities," said Ian Annett, the UK Space Agency's deputy chief executive. According to him, there is a high market demand for small satellite launches, and the United Kingdom aspires to become the "hub of European launches."
Annett stated that it is too early to determine whether additional missions are scheduled for the upcoming months.
In the past, British-made satellites had to be transferred to foreign spaceports to be launched into space.
The mission is a joint effort by the United Kingdom Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, Virgin Orbit, and Cornwall Council.
The debut was initially planned for late last year but was postponed due to technical and regulatory concerns.