The first orbital rocket to be launched from UK soil is about to launch – you don’t have to be there to see it.
In fact, you don’t even have to be in the country.
When LauncherOne launches on Monday, January 9thlaunched by the aptly named Cosmic Girl from Spaceport Cornwall, will be visible across the UK, Ireland and parts of France, Portugal and Spain.
Maps released by launch operator Virgin Orbit show when and where keen space enthusiasts in each country can see it after the launch window opens at 10:16 p.m.
The path of the 21-meter (69-foot) rocket from the launch point of Cosmic Girl (an old Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft) is shown in blue, with circles on the line indicating approximate positions at each minute along the route.
Virgin Orbit says people in the UK and Ireland should be able to see LauncherOne within 60 seconds of starting it up, while coastal areas in France, Portugal and Spain will get good visibility within two to three minutes.
The entire launch phase is estimated to last approximately 10 minutes.
How will the launch go?
The key thing about this launch is that it won’t remind you Classic NASA Spectaclessome gigantic spacecraft launched vertically into the atmosphere.
Considering Cosmic Girl is an old Boeing 747, the view from Spaceport Cornwall is no different than any other plane taking off under the cover of night.
Below its left wing is LauncherOne, which will launch at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean before accelerating to 8,000 mph on a mission to deploy seven satellites into orbit.
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What is the purpose of the mission?
Satellites on board include prototype track factory One is used to make high-value alloys and semiconductors, while another will join a constellation that monitors illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism.
It forms part of the government’s National Space Strategy, which sets out how the UK will become the first country in Europe to put a satellite into orbit.
There is no doubt that this is a momentous moment for the UK space programme.
Although like Helen Sharmanwho became the first Briton in space in 1989, and Tim Peake27 years later a historic spacewalk has flown the flag for the UK in space as never before has a rocket been launched from the UK into space.
The UK has only completed one orbital launch, the Black Arrow in 1971, which was actually launched from Australia.
It should prove to be a great way to kick off the UK’s big year in space after technical problems prevented LauncherOne’s mission from meeting its pre-Christmas targets.