Update: Despite successfully reaching second engine cut-off and thus past many of the most difficult parts of launch, the Start Me Up mission has suffered “an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit.” Status beyond that is unknown. The Cosmic Girl aircraft and crew are fine. This story is developing.
For all the U.K.’s contributions to research and aerospace, one thing it has never had is an actual orbital launch from its soil. That could change today with a mission going to space via a Virgin Galactic launch system, hoping to make history — and you can watch it right here.
The mission, called “Start Me Up” (and we may guess that Virgin’s Richard Branson got The Rolling Stones’ permission over breakfast), will take off at 10:16 p.m. local time (2:16 PST) from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay.
It’s in Virgin Orbit’s “horizontal” launch style, meaning the rocket and payload will be strapped to the bottom of the modified 747 Cosmic Girl, which will take it up out of the thickest part of the atmosphere and give it a running start at reaching escape velocity. From there the rocket will accelerate and hopefully reach the target orbit.
Although its presence in the space industry is considerable in other ways, the closest the Brits have come to this orbital achievement was in 1971, when a British satellite aboard a British rocket took off from … Australia — it’s the Commonwealth, at least.
They’re so excited they practically gave this mission its own coat of arms — rocket rampant upon a field orbital:
The rest of the heraldry:
The diamond shape of the emblem represents the “crown jewel,” the birthplace of Virgin in the United Kingdom. The number 1 indicates the first launch from the U.K. and the laurel leaves are Virgin Orbit’s good luck symbol. The amber borders are Spaceport Cornwall’s yellow color and red and black are Virgin Orbit brand colors. The United States flag represents Virgin Orbit’s country of origin and the United Kingdom flag marks the launch country.
Quite! On board the rocket are seven payloads, making this a first in a few other ways, too:
- Prometheus-2: Two experimental cubesats from the Ministry of Defense designed with private partners.
- AMAN: Oman’s first orbital mission, a proof-of-concept Earth observation satellite.
- CIRCE: Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment, which says it all.
- DOVER: RHEA Group’s first satellite and a test global navigation system.
- ForgeStar-0: A “fully returnable and reusable” in-space manufacturing platform (intriguing…).
- IOD-3: The first of a planned 20+ “Maritime Domain Awareness” satellites.
- STORK-6: “The next installment” from Polish manufacturer SatRev’s STORK series.
You can find more details — launch attitudes and altitudes, details about the spaceport, etc — right here.
And of course you can watch as well below:
“Like the great Sir Mick sang, we believe that once we start this up, it will never stop.”