Britain has conducted its first orbital space launch from UK soil on Monday evening, making it the privately-owned Virgin Orbit’s first international launch. Deutsche Welle reports: Dubbed “Start Me Up,” as in the Rolling Stones song, the rocket is carrying nine small satellites now making their way into space. The repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft took off from Cornwall in southwestern England at around 10:15 pm local time (2215 GMT) before releasing the rocket around an hour into flight over the Atlantic Ocean, toward the south of Ireland. The nine satellites the rocket will bring into orbit will be used for both civil and defense purposes. The plane, meanwhile, should make its way back to Cornwall.
The commercial satellite launch, described by Virgin Orbit as “history-making,” is not only the first in the UK but in the whole of Western Europe, according to the UK Space Agency. Though the UK has produced satellites in the past, they were sent to spaceports abroad to be launched into space. Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency, said, “This is the start of a new era for the UK in terms of launch capabilities.” He added that the UK had ambitions for being ”the hub of European launches.” Virgin Orbit has previously launched four similar missions from California.