Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc. said it’s on course for Britain’s first-ever space launch as final preparations for the mission proceed as planned following earlier delays.
The takeoff of a modified Boeing Co. 747 jetliner with a rocket under its wing from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay, England, is planned between 9:40 p.m. and 11 p.m. Monday, the company said in a briefing.
While Virgin Orbit has set out a number of possible dates for the mission over the next two weeks, launch plans are very much “geared toward and focused on the beginning of the window,” Chief Executive Officer Dan Hart said Sunday at the space center in southwest England.
“Right now everything is green,” Hart said. “The rocket was armed yesterday and we’ll be loading fuel later today. We’re in full motion right now. That said, we’re going to proceed cautiously on this flight. We’re in different airspace than we’ve flown before.”
Virgin Orbit, which normally operates from the Mojave Desert, put plans for a pre-Christmas UK launch on hold amid last-minute snags, the UK Civil Aviation Authority said Dec. 8.
Since then, the company has completed a vital “wet rehearsal” in which the LauncherOne rocket was loaded with fuel and a test countdown carried out.
As the 747, named Cosmic Girl, is a robust aircraft and will climb above the clouds before the rocket blasts away, surface conditions aren’t as big a concern as in traditional launches, though the weather is being monitored for crosswinds and potential lightning strikes, Hart said.
The mission from Cornwall will deploy nine satellites for a range of customers. Hart said that Long Beach-based Virgin Orbit would like to launch again from the spaceport before the end of this year if possible, with work underway on putting together the next payload, aided by the UK Space Agency.
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