Virgin Orbit launch today – live: UK’s first-ever rocket mission fails after suffering ‘anomaly’

The UK’s first-ever space mission has failed after “an anomaly” prevented the Virgin Orbit rocket from reaching orbit.

The Start Me Up mission lifted off the runway at Cornwall Airport at around 10.15pm as hundreds of people watching cheered.

But shortly before midnight, an official on the live stream announced the rocket suffered an “anomaly” that meant it failed to reach orbit.

Virgin Orbit added: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.”

The launch was set to be the first-ever rocket launch from UK soil, as well as the first time that satellites have been launched from Europe.

Virgin Orbit’s unusual system sees a plane carry the rocket up to 35,000 feet, before dropping it off to carry its satellites into space.

Key Points

  • UK space mission fails

  • Small seaside town awaits western Europe’s first ever satellite launch

  • UK Space Agency excited for launch

Launch appears to have gone wrong at the last moment

00:15 , Andrew Griffin

From both the live stream and people on the ground, it sounds like all of the mission went right until the very end. Technical problems appear to have meant that the payload isn’t in the right orbit.

That might explain the confusion in Virgin Orbit’s tweets: it’s possible that the satellites have made it into orbit, but not on the path needed. (If so they’ll likely be useless, and may well just burn up very quickly.)

Virgin Orbit ends live stream – with no information given

00:12 , Andrew Griffin

The already controversial live stream has already ended, with no further information given beyond the rocket having had an “anomaly”.

A mission controller appeared on screen to announce that the feed would be coming to an end.

“We have experienced an anomaly. And we are gathering more information,” he said, before thanking Virgin Orbit’s customers, staff and others involved in the launch.

“We’re going to be ending our live stream at this pint but please be sure to check our other channels – our social media channels – for more information as soon as it’s available.”

Virgin Orbit’s social media channels are yet to give any detailed information on what has gone wrong – or even exactly what happened at the end of the launch.

 (Twitter/Virgin Orbit)
(Twitter/Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit deletes apparently false tweet about mission

00:00 , Andrew Griffin

Virgin Orbit had previously announced that the rocket had reached orbit, and that it was just waiting for final confirmation of the satellite payload being deployed. But it now says it is deleting that tweet, which appears to have been untrue.

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‘Cosmic Girl’ arrives on the ground

Monday 9 January 2023 23:56 , Andrew Griffin

‘Cosmic Girl’ has touched back down at Spaceport Cornwall.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

On the live stream, the company is hailing the success of the plane part of the mission.

But once more it is notably not giving any detail about what happened to the rocket, or how the mission failed.

Plane coming back to land

Monday 9 January 2023 23:52 , Andrew Griffin

The live stream is currently showing video of the ‘Cosmic Girl’ plane coming back to land at Newquay.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

There’s been no further information given on the stream or anywhere else about what actually happened to the rocket.

Mission has failed

Monday 9 January 2023 23:47 , Andrew Griffin

Someone just appeared on the live stream to announce that the rocket suffered an “anomaly” that means it will fail to reach orbit.

No further information was given, but some was promised soon.

Until then it looks like the mission has failed.

Monday 9 January 2023 23:45 , Andrew Griffin

Frustration over the poor quality of the feed is continuing to grow.

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Historically, Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic have been very keen on using these live streams for marketing, showing a wide variety of products as well owner Richard Branson.

But they’ve also always been less spectacular than those run by Nasa and rivals SpaceX, presumably in part because those companies have so much more practice.

As a reminder, you can decide for yourself by watching the live feed here:

‘Cosmic Girl’ about halfway home after groundbreaking mission

Monday 9 January 2023 23:30 , Andrew Griffin

‘Cosmic Girl’, the former passenger plane that dropped off the rocket for its big launch, is about halfway back to Newquay as it prepares to land where right back where it took off, about 90 minutes ago.

 (FlightRadar24)
(FlightRadar24)

Live stream hit by complaints on YouTube

Monday 9 January 2023 23:28 , Andrew Griffin

The official live stream is currently being hit by a flurry of complaints. The thrust of them is mostly that while the mission might have been a pioneering success, the video of it certainly wasn’t.

Complaints have included everything from the music (it’s true; it’s just one bland piece of music on repeat, which makes you feel like you’re on hold) to technical problems with the video and with glitches. Others just complain it’s boring – especially since there’s very little to see.

Live streams of rocket launches are always hit by complaints of this kind, of course, just like everything on the internet. But they do seem particularly vociferous, here.

First burn of second stage complete

Monday 9 January 2023 23:21 , Andrew Griffin

The rocket’s journey is nearing its end. It just finished the first burn of its second stage. It’s got another burn, then that engine will cut off, and then the payload will be deployed and the mission can be declared a success. This bit all happens very quickly.

You can follow all of that live on YouTube here.

(As all this happens, the plane ‘Cosmic Girl’ is making its way back to land in Newquay. Virgin Orbit isn’t really tracking that anymore but you can watch it on FlightRadar here.)

Rocket flicking through ground stations as it careens up into space

Monday 9 January 2023 23:18 , Andrew Griffin

The rocket is gradually moving through various ground stations as it sends data back down to Earth. It just switched to Madrid, as it flies south over the globe as well as going upwards.

First ever satellite launch from Europe successfully blasts off

Monday 9 January 2023 23:13 , Andrew Griffin

Here’s our full story on today’s successful launch.

Rocket on its way to space

Monday 9 January 2023 23:13 , Andrew Griffin

The rocket has “dropped” and is now burning fuel as it heads up into space.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)
 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

Drop to happen any time now

Monday 9 January 2023 23:11 , Andrew Griffin

The “drop ready” time has arrived – the rocket is prepared to drop off its plane and head into space.

Plane successfully takes off ahead of rocket launch

Monday 9 January 2023 23:02 , Andrew Griffin

Here’s the latest round-up from the Press Association, on everything that has happened before and is about to happen. (There’s about 7 minutes until the “drop”.)

The Virgin Orbit plane carrying the first rocket to launch into space from UK soil has taken off from Spaceport Cornwall.

As the Start Me Up mission lifted off from the runway at Cornwall Airport Newquay, hundreds of people cheered and Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones was blasted out on loudspeakers.

Named in tribute to the Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission involves a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

The 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off horizontally from the new facility while carrying the rocket under a wing.

Around an hour into the flight the rocket will be released at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.

The plane will then return to the spaceport while the rocket will ignite its engine and take multiple small satellites, with a variety of civil and defence applications, into orbit.

Before the launch, the team behind the historic moment spoke of their immense excitement as they prepared for take-off.

Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency, described his “immense excitement”.

“Who would not be excited by the fact this is the first time that it has been done in Europe? That’s because it’s hard,” he said.

“There is a point where the training takes over and you fall into that rhythm of the teams knowing what they need to do.

“They know when they need to make the decisions they need to make.

“I would say the real achievements here are not the successes that you can necessarily see but all of the challenges that collectively as a team people have overcome.

“The culmination of all of that is putting these exciting missions into space. It’s the things at the pointy end of the rocket that really matter.”

150,000 people track plane as it gets ready to launch

Monday 9 January 2023 22:57 , Andrew Griffin

There are almost 150,000 people tracking the plane as it goes around its “race track”, getting ready for the launch, according to FlightRadar.

 (FlightRadar24)
(FlightRadar24)

It’s by far the most popular plane on the service. And the second plane most tracked plane – with 22,000 people watching it – is a seemingly otherwise unremarkable flight from Madrid to Keflavik in Iceland, which just happens to be going sort of near ‘Cosmic Girl’.

 (FlightRadar24)
(FlightRadar24)

Monday 9 January 2023 22:54 , Andrew Griffin

Here’s another view of the plane on a map. Looks like it’s moving into its “race track”, where it’ll go round and round a little to ensure it’s ready to “drop” its rocket. Just over 15 minutes until that happens.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

SpaceX capsule undocks from International Space Station

Monday 9 January 2023 22:50 , Andrew Griffin

Elsewhere in space, a SpaceX capsule has just detached from the International Space Station and is on its way back down to Earth.

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Jokes and joy as world waits for more news

Monday 9 January 2023 22:48 , Andrew Griffin

This is typically the “quiet” phase of the mission, as the plane gradually makes its way into the right place for the rocket to launch. That is giving people time to make jokes and enjoy themselves as we await more news. (That news should come in just over 20 minutes.)

There’s jokes about scones, ice creams and midlife crises. Very fitting for a UK space launch, arguably.

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Why do we need more launch sites?

Monday 9 January 2023 22:46 , Andrew Griffin

A representative from the US National Reconnaissance Office is speaking on the live stream, because they’re in charge of one of the paylods. He’s asked why it’s important to have more launch locations, such as Newquay.

He says that it is helpful because the organisation can do “different things, better things, from wherever we need to do”. (It’s not clear exactly what those different and better things are.)

The live stream helps him a little bit: it’s possible to get different kinds of orbits depending on where you launch from, for instance.

Protestors wait for news of ‘drop'

Monday 9 January 2023 22:35 , Andrew Griffin

At Spaceport Newquay, which welcomed some ticketed spectators to watch the launch, many are mulling around waiting for news of a successful “drop”, when the rocket will detach from the plane, with the former heading to space and the latter heading back down to land.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

That’s about 35 minutes away. No doubt it’s a stressful time for the pilots in charge of ‘Cosmic Girl’, the plane, but all everyone else can do is wait.

Picture show ‘Cosmic Girl’ as it takes off on pioneering flight

Monday 9 January 2023 22:32 , Andrew Griffin

On a dark night in Newquay, Cornwall, a Boeing 747 named ‘Cosmic Girl’ took off for a pioneering flight. Soon, it’ll be dropping off a rocket to head into space, the first ever rocket and satellites launched from UK soil.

Here’s how that historic moment looked:

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

FlightRadar tracking ‘Cosmic Girl’ as it ascends

Monday 9 January 2023 22:27 , Andrew Griffin

In lieu of the live stream, you can track the plane on FlightRadar. Here’s a link to the entry for ‘Cosmic Girl’.

 (FlightRadar24)
(FlightRadar24)

At the time of publication, it’s somewhere between Cornwall and Ireland. It’s on its way to the “race track” – an area just off the coast of Ireland where it will fly around in an oval, gaining altitude and performing important checks.

Live stream takes break as world waits for ‘the drop'

Monday 9 January 2023 22:23 , Andrew Griffin

The live stream is now taking a brief break: we’re in the middle of the two parts of the launch. There’s around 45 minutes until the “drop”, when the rocket will fall off its plane and travel up into space.

In the meantime, the pilots are flying around near Ireland, ensuring that everything is in place and that they’re at the right altitude to let go of the rocket, known as LauncherOne.

UK minister discusses vertical spaceports

Monday 9 January 2023 22:19 , Andrew Griffin

Grant Shapps, the business secretary, is appearing on the Virgin Orbit livestream right now. He’s praising the work of Virgin Orbit but also pointing to the various “vertical” spaceports that the UK is planning, including in Scotland.

Those vertical spaceports are more like the classic kind of launchpad: a rocket that takes off straight up and goes straight into space, rather than using a plane for “air launches”, like Virgin Orbit does.

Cosmic Girl speeding up to launch its rocket

Monday 9 January 2023 22:09 , Andrew Griffin

The plane is now travelling at just under 350mph, and is just under 20,000 feet up. It will going along and upwards as it gets ready to let go of its rocket.

(All of this information is being relayed back down to Earth through radio frequencies, sent back to ground stations that are tracking the plane.)

Monday 9 January 2023 22:07 , Andrew Griffin

Virgin Orbit is talking about how its systems are “agile”: they can be attached at any airport that can host a 747 aircraft.

The idea is that it can just fly the plane to the airport of any customer, connect everything up, take the rocket and its payload to space, before flying the plane back so that it can start all over again.

This kind of reusable, rapid space deployment is thought to be the key to the future of relatively cheap space travel. Other companies, such as SpaceX, are doing it in different ways, with rockets that are able to fly themselves back down to Earth so they can be recycled.

‘Cosmic Girl’ takes off

Monday 9 January 2023 22:04 , Andrew Griffin

The plane has taken off! It’s now headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, heading towards the bottom of Ireland, where it will fly around and gradually move up to the altitude required to launch its rocket.

(And with that, Start Me Up finally plays!)

‘MUSIC OFF'

Monday 9 January 2023 22:01 , Andrew Griffin

The choice to add middle of the road rock music to this live stream is going down very badly in the comments on YouTube. Almost all the comments are people shouting “music off”. There has been some of the noise of the jet engine but it has been drowned out by those tunes. Some have pointed out that even amid all this rock, Virgin Orbit haven’t played Start Me Up, the Rolling Stones song that lent its name to the mission.

As a reminder, you can watch live here.

‘Cosmic Girl’ makes its way to takeoff

Monday 9 January 2023 21:54 , Andrew Griffin

Cosmic Girl is ready to go and making its way towards takeoff:

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

Again, if that looks like a normal plane doing a normal takeoff, that’s because it is. Even the plane’s (fitting) name was actually given to it back when it was just doing passenger flights for Virgin Atlantic.

Everything only gets special when the plane drops off its rocket, which will then fly up into space.

Launchers are ‘go’ for takeoff

Monday 9 January 2023 21:52 , Andrew Griffin

Virgin Orbit is ready to go. There’s about 10 minutes left before the plane – named Cosmic Girl – sets off.

After that, it will fly out towards Ireland, check everything is OK, and the rocket will start on its own power. The plane will ascend up, to get ready to drop the rocket. Then it’s go.

The rocket will fly up into space, and drop off its satellites before falling into the water. The plane will fly back to Cornwall.

Vehicles disconnected from cables – and connected to stations

Monday 9 January 2023 21:45 , Andrew Griffin

The plane and rocket have now had their fuel and data connections removed, so they’re on their own. And mission controllers have checked that they can communicate with the stations that will relay all the data back during the flight. Everything is looking very ready.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)
 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit pushes ‘air launch’ system

Monday 9 January 2023 21:35 , Andrew Griffin

With the extra eyes on its live stream, Virgin Orbit is pushing its air launch plan. That works by carrying the rocket up on a normal plane – to 35,000 feet – effectively giving the rocket a shortcut, so that it can do so more quickly.

It argues that the system is cheaper, it’s quicker because it doesn’t whole effort of setting up a launchpad and putting in restrictions, and is better for avoiding clouds.

Eventually, this could allow launches from anywhere, Virgin Orbit argues, since they won’t need big launchpads and rockets. That will be very important as more countries and companies want to launch satellites.

It claims the process will “democratise space”.

Rocket undergoing final loading

Monday 9 January 2023 21:31 , Andrew Griffin

There’s about half an hour before the plane – and the rocket it is carrying – take off. It’s being given its final loading and checks, the live stream shows. After that’s done it will be disconnected so that it can be launch.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

It looks like a normal airport. And that’s because it is: the plane will be taking off from what’s usually known as Cornwall Airport Newquay, but has become Spaceport Cornwall for the day. (And many more days in the future, local and national government hopes.)

Part of the reason today’s launch is so late is to ensure that the launch didn’t interfere with the airport’s usual operations.

Huge meteor spotted over the UK

Monday 9 January 2023 21:24 , Andrew Griffin

This isn’t related to the Virgin Orbit launch (but some people online have speculated that it is). A huge meteor has been spotted over the UK, just a couple of hours before the launch from Cornwall. You can read more here.

All systems go

Monday 9 January 2023 21:21 , Andrew Griffin

Everything is ‘go’ for launch today, from the equipment to the weather (both on the ground and in space). So everything should be progressing towards a launch as expected, at around 10pm.

Live stream appears to be hit by technical issues

Monday 9 January 2023 21:18 , Andrew Griffin

After a slightly delayed start, it appears that the live stream is being hit by some technical issues: you can hear people talking, but only a little, because the rock music is far too loud. There’s also a strange audio delay. But it does appear that something is happening.

Virgin Orbit live stream begins

Monday 9 January 2023 21:16 , Andrew Griffin

It’s 9.15pm, roughly an hour from launch, and Virgin Orbit’s live stream has begun. You can find it here:

At the moment it’s not especially thrilling: just the time of the mission, some nice Cornwall landscapes, and rock music. But it has started!

One hour until live stream begins

Monday 9 January 2023 20:00 , Andrew Griffin

The live stream will begin an hour from now. (The launch will be about 75 minutes after that.) You can find it here:

That page will also let you set a reminder for when the video does start.

If you want something to fill the time, then you could watch Virgin Orbit’s video of its previous launch, here. Today’s events will be much the same – but, importantly, they’ll be happening in the UK rather than the US.

Government says launch is not about ‘environmentally unsustainable space tourism’

Monday 9 January 2023 19:43 , Andrew Griffin

George Freeman – the minister for science, research and innovation, who is on his way to the launch – has stressed that the launch tonight is not about “environmentally unsustainable space tourism”. Instead, he says, it’s the opposite: it’s “about the UK in the vanguard of space research and technologies and the crucial data to unlock breakthroughs and drive progress in Earth Observation, AgriTech, drought and famine prevention and climate change”, he says.

(That’s a view that isn’t held by everyone; see the post below about protestors.)

Protestors can ‘come together and make themselves heard’, Spaceport Cornwall says

Monday 9 January 2023 19:06 , Andrew Griffin

Spaceport Cornwall has a good FAQ on its website, for anyone interested in heading along. It includes all the important stuff: what time to arrive, details of the silent disco, and information on what you’ll actually see. (On that latter point, it sounds like not much: “Although it will be dark, you’ll still be able to witness some aspects of the launch and experience the sounds and smells that come with it”, it notes, and advises that there will be a screen to watch the live stream.)

But the final Q of that FAQ is interesting: it includes information for protestors. And it makes clear “there will be a designated safe space for protesters to come together and have their voices heard”.

Anti-spaceport protestors come from a wide variety of different angles: late last year, the plan was demonstrated against by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Drone Wars UK, who argued that it was wrong to build up rocket capacity during a cost of living crisis. Criticism has been ongoing for some time: in 2019, after a vote on funding for the Spaceport, Extinction Rebellion protestors caused chaos in the Cornwall council chamber.

Those protests haven’t been limited to Cornwall. Protestors have also demonstrated against a similar plan in the Scottish Highlands, objecting to a plan to build the first vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland.

News was greeted with ‘memes of pasties’, says spaceport head

Monday 9 January 2023 18:58 , Andrew Griffin

Cornwall was “laughed at” in its early days as it tried to join the space industry, says Melissa Thorpe, the boss of Spaceport Cornwall.

““There were memes of pasties and cream teas being sent into space... but here we are,” she told the BBC.

This piece delves into how Cornwall has gone from being known largely for mining underground to launching rockets far above our heads.

Monday 9 January 2023 18:08 , Andrew Griffin

Virgin has been trying hard to use this as a brand opportunity, and nowhere more so than its latest video, which shows everyone from Virgin Money bank workers to Virgin Active gym staff congratulating the “Virgin Family” for their work to get to the launch today. (That’s a literal family, in some cases: the video starts with Holly Branson, Richard’s daughter.)

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Map shows when people might be able to see launch

Monday 9 January 2023 15:45 , Andrew Griffin

Here, thanks to Virgin Orbit and via space journalist Jonathan O’Callaghan, is a map of when you might be able to see the launch tonight, depending on where you are.

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

And here’s a slightly less zoomed-in version of the same thing:

 (Virgin Orbit)
(Virgin Orbit)

Of course, this is only the time the launch will be visible, if it is visible. If cloud cover gets in the way or you’re too far away, then it just shows the time you won’t see the launch.

Tim Peake says launch is ‘ground-breaking moment for the UK space industry'

Monday 9 January 2023 15:40 , Andrew Griffin

Tim Peake, the pioneering British astronaut, has hailed the launch and says he hopes it will be just the beginning.

“Today’s mission is a ground-breaking moment for the UK space industry and shows the great strides our nation is making to compete on a global stage.

“I hope that this is the start of many successful projects that will inspire a new generation of people to enter this exciting sector.”

Launch will include satellites to learn more about space weather

Monday 9 January 2023 14:03 , Andrew Griffin

There’s been a lot of focus on the fact that the UK’s – and western Europe’s – first satellites will be part of the launch. But what’s in those satellites?

Here’s some information from UCL about two tiny satellites that will be part of the launch, and will help track how space weather caused by eruptions from our Sun affect the atmosphere down here on Earth:

“Two nano satellites sent into orbit on the UK’s first orbital space launch carry an instrument designed and built at UCL that aims to advance our understanding of space weather and its effects on Earth’s atmosphere.

“The instrument, an Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS), was developed at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and will analyse particles in the ionosphere, the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere, tracking disturbances caused by space weather events including solar eruptions and flares and geomagnetic activity.

“The analyser forms part of the instrumentation for a mission called CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction Cubesat Experiment), which aims to better characterise Earth’s upper atmosphere – a region of the space environment important for a range of communications systems, from the internet to GPS to defence technologies.”

How to watch launch live

Monday 9 January 2023 13:06 , Andrew Griffin

The launch will be live streamed, for those who were unable to get tickets. (It will actually be live streamed for those lucky enough to get tickets, too; they’ll watch the plane take off then turn to watch the video.

You can find all the details here.

Small seaside town awaits western Europe’s first ever satellite launch

Monday 9 January 2023 11:11 , Andrew Griffin

Here, from Reuters, is the latest from Newquay, as space fans prepare for the launch:

Final preparations were being made on Monday for the first launch of orbital satellites into space from western Europe, when Virgin Orbit’s mission will transform the English surfing hotspot of Newquay into the country’s first spaceport.

A modified Boeing 747 with a rocket under its wing will take off from Newquay airport on Monday evening, watched by crowds across the runway, before soaring out over the Atlantic where after an hour it will release a rocket at about 35,000 feet.

The flight will catapult the small seaside resort of Newquay, in Cornwall in southwest England, population 20,000 and best known to surfers for its reliable waves rolling off the Atlantic, into the limelight as western Europe’s go-to destination for small satellites.

Virgin Orbit, part-owned by billionaire Richard Branson, said that the mission would launch nine satellites from its LauncherOne rocket, in what will be the first time the company has done so outside of its United States base.

The new spaceport in Newquay gives Europe options for launching smaller satellites at a critical time, after the Ukraine war cut access to its use of Russian Soyuz vehicles. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Ariane 6 rocket, designed to carry large satellites, has also had delays.

The Ukraine war has highlighted the importance for tactical military purposes of smaller satellites, like those being launched from Newquay, which can get into low orbit at much shorter notice than bigger ones.

SUBJECT TO CHANGE

The plane is expected to take off at some point between 2140 GMT and 2300 GMT, but it is dependent on the weather and “health of the system” and Virgin Orbit has said there are back-up dates available for later in January.

“Assuming that everything continues to look good we’re currently tracking well for launch,” a Virgin Orbit spokeswoman said on Sunday.

Space enthusiasts with tickets for the event will watch from a viewing area across the runway before attention shifts to a live stream from a big screen.

Virgin Orbit’s focus on small satellites is at the other end of the scale from the large satellites served by companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, but the market is growing.

They are used for climate change, observation, urban development and security purposes, and Britain hopes the new spaceport will boost its space economy.

The country has a large space industry employing 47,000 people, who build more satellites than anywhere outside the United States, but those have had to travel to spaceports in the United States, French Guiana or Kazakhstan before they can make it into orbit.

Getting the mission off the ground has taken time. It was delayed from late last year due to the myriad regulatory clearances needed for the inaugural flight.

When and what will happen tonight?

Monday 9 January 2023 10:33 , Andrew Griffin

At 10.16pm, the launch window will open. If all goes well, a Virgin Atlantic-branded Boeing 747 named ‘Cosmic Girl’ will take off, carrying a rocket with it.

(If all doesn’t go well, the launch might be delayed into the rest of this week, with other launch windows available.)

Around an hour into the flight the rocket will be released at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.

The plane will then return to the spaceport while the rocket will ignite its engine and take multiple small satellites, with a variety of civil and defence applications, into orbit.

UK Space Agency boss says he is ‘immensely excited'

Monday 9 January 2023 08:59 , Andrew Griffin

Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency, has spoken about just how excited he is about the new launch.

“Who would not be excited by the fact this is the first time that it has been done in Europe? That’s because it’s hard,” he said.

“There is a point where the training takes over and you fall into that rhythm of the teams knowing what they need to do.

“They know when they need to make the decisions they need to make.

“I would say the real achievements here are not the successes that you can necessarily see but all of the challenges that collectively as a team people have overcome.

“The culmination of all of that is putting these exciting missions into space. It’s the things at the pointy end of the rocket that really matter.”

Hello and welcome...

Monday 9 January 2023 08:58 , Andrew Griffin

... to The Independent’s live coverage of the UK’s first ever rocket launch.