U.K. issues 1st spaceport license ahead of maiden launch

Reuters file photo
A modified Boeing 747 takes flight carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, in Mojave, Calif., in June 2021.

LONDON (Reuters) — Britain issued its first spaceport license on Nov. 16, paving the way for the country’s maiden satellite launch later this year as it looks to become Europe’s leading space industry player.

The license was issued to Spaceport Cornwall.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the U.K. regulator, also said it was in “very advanced stages” with Virgin Orbit, Richard Branson’s small satellite service provider, for additional licenses needed for the launch itself.

The issue of the spaceport licence to the site in Newquay, Cornwall, puts Britain one step closer to becoming the first country in Europe from where satellites can be launched into orbit.

The first U.K. launch is expected before the end of the year, the U.K. Space Agency’s deputy chief executive, Ian Annett, said in a CAA statement.

Virgin Orbit plans to use a modified Boeing 747 with a rocket attached under its wing. Once in flight, the rocket will set off, taking small satellites into orbit in what is known as a horizontal launch.

Britain has a large space industry employing 47,000 people who build more satellites than anywhere outside the United States. Adding launch capabilities will boost the economy by £3.8 billion ($4.5 billion) over the next decade, the government estimates.