Virgin Orbit's "Cosmic Girl" aircraft shortly after separating the LauncherOne vehicle during a drop-test in July 2019.

Spaceport Cornwall ready for launch: Checking in with Virgin Orbit, Skyrora and Orbex

A detailed update on the current status of the 3 main UK launch providers, as well as news and information on the upcoming Virgin Orbit launch from Spaceport Cornwall.

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Matthew B.

Matthew B.

Sat Nov 19 2022Written by Matthew B.

Three days ago, Spaceport Cornwall received it's launch license for hosting the United Kingdom's first ever orbital launch, setting Virgin Orbit up nicely for their flight date of NET November. As Virgin Orbit makes the headlines, a couple other launch providers are making great but often unheard-of progress towards reaching space. This article will provide a summary of the status of Virgin Orbit, Orbex and Skyrora, and what they're up to.

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit announced last month that their LauncherOne rocket had completed a full launch rehearsal and was ready for flight, following mating the launch vehicle with the aircraft that will take it into the air, a Boeing 747 dubbed "Cosmic Girl". The company said in a press release that:

"The window for the company's next launch, planned to be the first orbital space launch from the U.K, will be determined by the launch permitting regulatory process."

With the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) providing the launch license for Spaceport Cornwall, final checkouts, rehearsals as well as Virgin Orbit's own launch license are really the only hurdles that Virgin Orbit needs to get over before they make their maiden flight in the UK with the "Start Me Up" mission. The mission will be one of many firsts, the first orbital launch from the United Kingdom, the first commercial rocket launch from Western Europe, and the first ever international launch for the company. Government and commercial payloads will launch onboard this mission to a destination of Low Earth Orbit.

With seemingly all hands on deck, it looks like the launch date for the UK's first ever orbital launch is swiftly approaching.


Orbex have been working incredibly hard to push their Orbex Prime launch vehicle forward towards launching into Low Earth Orbit. Over the past year, they've achieved many milestones, setting them up nicely for their first launch. The Forres-based company recently received £40.4 million in funding while working with the Scottish National Investment Bank, allowing them to advance resources going towards the first flight, as well as providing additional funding for future projects.

Earlier this month, Orbex announced they have gained a 50-year lease of Sutherland Spaceport in the Highlands, which will see them leading the operation and construction of the UK's first vertical spaceport. The Jacobs company, who manages advanced launch sites such as Cape Canaveral, will work with Orbex on constructing spaceports and providing support on operations and engineering.

Orbex Prime is a small-lift launch vehicle that can launch up to 180kg of payload to LEO (Low Earth Orbit), and is the world's most environmentally friendly rocket. With seven 3D printed engines that utilise 'Calor Futuria Liquid Gas' which is a bio-propane propellant, meaning it is significantly healthier for the environment. It's most likely Orbex have a target NET for their vehicle, and hopefully soon, will announce information on their maiden launch attempt of Orbex Prime.


Skyrora are steadily working towards reaching space - only last month, the company attempted to launch their Skylark L vehicle from a launch site on the East of Iceland, but suffered an anomaly during flight, and landed in the sea approximately 500 metres away from the launch site, no people or wildlife were harmed, and recovery of the vehicle was underway as of the 8th October. No information on the cause of the incident was provided, but mission success or not, Skyrora are still swiftly making progress and achieving milestones on it's path to their first vertical orbital launch from the UK in 2023.

This August, the Edinburgh-based company successfully completed a static fire of the 70kN liquid engine used on the second stage of their Skyrora XL rocket, which is set to make the headlines as it reaches orbit next year. The 20 second firing occurred at Machrihanish Airbase, near the Isle of Arran, and was the biggest integrated stage test to be held in the UK since Black Arrow in the '70s. This successful test makes Skyrora closer to entering commercial spaceflight operations.

Skyrora submitted a launch vehicle license to the Civil Aviation Authority back in August, and have been incredibly busy while working with the CAA to provide a safe launch. A new rocket engine manufacturing facility was recently opened in Cumbernauld, just outside of Glasgow. As the UK's biggest rocket engine production facility, it allows Skyrora to conduct full-stage structural and pressure testing, as well as producing sixteen vehicles at one time once the site is finished.

The aerospace industry is certainly warming up in the United Kingdom, with multiple launch providers rushing to be the first to reach space from UK land. All companies have unique ways of producing or operating vehicles, and leads space technology into an exciting time, the only question that remains; who will launch to orbit first?