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UK space regulator issues Virgin Orbit licences ahead of UK launch

21 December 2022

UK Civil Aviation Authority issues launch and range licences to Virgin Orbit to undertake launch activities from the UK public safety, the environment and international obligations were among the statutory tests Virgin Orbit had to satisfy to secure licences licences issued in 15 months, putting the UK framework on a competitive footing with international space regulators and follows first spaceport licence issued to Spaceport Cornwall

The UK Civil Aviation Authority has issued the final remaining licences to Virgin Orbit ahead of a planned UK launch after requirements were met within 15 months.

The licences were issued following consent from Transport Secretary Mark Harper for Virgin Orbit’s launch and range licence, meaning he is in agreement with the licensing decisions made by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Virgin Orbit met the licensing requirements having demonstrated to the UK Civil Aviation Authority it has taken all reasonable steps to ensure safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable. Virgin Orbit also met other appropriate security and environmental aspects required for launch.

Virgin Orbit also received its range control licence from the space regulator, which enables the company to issue warning notices to keep people out of hazardous areas and monitor the progress of the rocket.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority granted the licences within 15 months, well within the expected timescales for these types of licences, putting the UK’s regulatory framework on a competitive footing with other international space regulators.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper, said: Today we are one step closer to opening the UK’s galactic gateway, with Virgin Orbit receiving a historic first licence to allow the UK’s first ever spaceflight launch.

The planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.

Dan Hart, Chief Executive of Virgin Orbit, said: Receiving Virgin Orbit’s range and launch licences takes us one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil. This is a major milestone for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and represents the successful completion of an enormous effort, which has included the construction of new regulations, new processes and new teams.

With our partners at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Spaceport Cornwall, UK Space Agency and our payload customers, together we are progressing towards the first launch from Cornwall – keeping a strong focus on a safe and successful mission for all.

Tim Johnson, Director for Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority said: This is another major milestone in enabling the very first orbital space launch from UK shores and these licences will assist Virgin Orbit with their final preparations for launch.

Effective licensing forms an integral part of UK space activity, and with public safety at the heart of our decision making, we’ve worked with Virgin Orbit to assess their applications and issue licences within our expected timelines. 

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: We are thrilled for the Virgin Orbit licenses to be in place for this historic launch. It has been an incredible effort by all partners to reach this milestone, and my team cannot wait to share in the excitement of the upcoming launch with everyone that has made it happen. Together we can now get these Earth-benefitting technologies into low Earth orbit and open up space for good from Cornwall.

Ian Annett, Deputy Chief Executive at the UK Space Agency, said: With Virgin Orbit’s licences secured, we have achieved another key delivery milestone ahead of the first satellite launch from UK soil. I would like to thank our partners across government and industry who continue to work hard to make our shared ambitions a reality.

Establishing orbital launch capabilities in the UK is already bringing investment and jobs into Cornwall and other communities across the UK, and inspiring a new generation to join our growing space sector. 

Establishing orbital launch capabilities in the UK is bringing investment and jobs into Cornwall and other regions across the UK. The growing space industry will boost innovation and is estimated to be worth £16.5 billion and support 47,000 jobs, with 2,500 apprentices opening the sector up to even more people.

Licences come after the regulator issued a spaceport licence to Spaceport Cornwall. These licences are one of many factors that need to be in place for launch, including airspace access arrangements, technical and operational readiness by the operator and suitable weather conditions.

They also add to the more than 150 satellite licences already approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since becoming the regulator in July 2021.

Virgin Orbit’s ‘Start Me Up’ mission will launch from Spaceport Cornwall, operating out of Cornwall Newquay Airport. It will see a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet be able to carry a rocket to be flown and released in a designated launch location over the Atlantic Ocean.

Licensing forms a key part of enabling growth in the UK space sector, with the regulator progressing applications from a range of other spaceports and operators, and recently consulted on the environmental effects of a proposed SaxaVord launch in Scotland.



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