DALLAS — A repurposed Virgin Atlantic (VS) Boeing 747 will release a Virgin Orbit rocket carrying several small satellites into space, marking the first satellite launch from the UK.
The Jumbo jet carrying the rocket will take off today from Cornwall in southwestern England at around 10:15 p.m. (2215 GMT; 5:15 p.m. EST). The rocket will be launched at 35,000 feet (around 10,000 meters) over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland about an hour into the flight.
If the mission is successful, it will be the first orbital space launch from British soil and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, which was founded by British billionaire Richard Branson.
The NASDAQ-listed company has already completed four similar launches in the United States.
The repurposed VS Boeing 747 was originally purchased by Virgin Galactic in 2015, and re-registered as N744VG in the United States, to be used for launching small satellites into orbit. It was later renamed Cosmic Girl and has since gone on to be used as the first aircraft to be powered by sustainable aviation fuel.
Cosmic Girl was assembled at the Boeing Everett Factory in 2001. It was built as a 44/32/310 B747-41R, c/n 32745. The Jumbo took its first flight on September 29, 2001, and was delivered to VS on October 31, 2001, where it was registered as G-VWOW.
On November 3, 2005, the aircraft was landing on Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) Runway 27R when a crosswind caused it to roll to the left, and the aircraft’s left-most (No. 1) engine collided with the ground.
Sustainable Aviation Foray
In October 2018, the aircraft was used for a historic VS flight from Orlando to London’s Gatwick Airport (LGA), becoming the first commercial flight to be powered by sustainable fuel using recycled carbon jet fuel.
The flight marked a major milestone in the fight against climate change and was a demonstration to the industry of the potential for sustainable jet fuel to reduce emissions.
See as a new era for space in the U.K., today’s mission is a collaboration between the U.K. Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, Virgin Orbit, and Cornwall Council.
Cosmic Girl is based at Long Beach International Airport (LGB).
Featured image: Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne on the way out to sea. Photo: Glenn Beltz from Goleta, CA, USA – Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne on the way out to Sea, CC BY 2.0