Virgin Galactic spinoff Orbit to launch rockets from the UK with space deal

  • Virgin Orbit sealed a deal with the U.K. Space Agency to launch its LauncherOne rocket via Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747-400 plane.
  • Virgin said Monday the agreement meant Orbit would be the first firm to operate flights to space from British soil.
Adrian Dennis | AFP | GettyImages

One of Virgin’s space companies is gearing up to launch rockets from the U.K. by 2021.

Virgin Orbit, spun off from Virgin Galactic last year, has sealed a deal with the U.K. Space Agency to launch its LauncherOne rocket via Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747-400 plane.

The deal, signed at the Farnborough Airshow in England, will see Cosmic Girl planes take to the skies from a spaceport at Newquay Airport in Cornwall, southwest England.

Virgin said Monday that the agreement meant Orbit would be the first firm to operate flights to space from British soil.

Launches will be carried out horizontally rather than vertically. This means that the satellite-carrying rockets are launched from a plane flying horizontally rather than conventional liftoffs from the ground.

Newquay will be the second launch site for Virgin Orbit. It’s primary testing site is located in California.

Virgin’s billionaire founder Richard Branson has been pushing toward space flight since 2004, when he created Virgin Galactic. It’s a highly competitive industry, with the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin also operating in the space.

Last week, Blue Origin said it would offer the first space rides for customers soon. Tickets for the rides are expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000 each, according to a Reuters report.

A report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch earlier this year forecast the space sector will be worth at least $2.7 trillion in 30 years.