CAA Issues Virgin Orbit Licences21st Dec 2022
The Civil Aviation Authority announced on 21st December that it had issued licences to Virgin Orbit. These licences are for both launch and range. As the CAA notes in its announcement, this gives Virgin Orbit the right to ensure that an area for the launch is publicly identified that the appropriate notifications and coordination are in place.
Virgin Orbit licences not enough for this launch
While the Virgin Orbit licences are a major milestone for the British space industry, more bureaucracy exists. The satellites in Launcher One also need certification. This type of certification generally should be within the current experience of the government, but given that this is a horizontal launch, there may be technical differences that need sorting out.
Were the licences late?
According to the CAA, the Authority issued the licences within 15 months, as opposed to an estimated 18 months. Issuance was long-awaited, especially after Spaceport Cornwall received its licences in November. The delay left commentators chomping at the bit, but until the licences were issued, no comment about the estimated time was made.
The British government has come under criticism in light of the time needed to issue the licences. In response, the UK Space Agency funded a GBP 26,000 project by UK Launch Services Ltd (UKLSL) to investigate how the licensing process can be streamlined.
Look for the NOTAM
Now that the Virgin Orbit licences are issued, the remaining permissions for the satellites and other lesser-broadcast points will come under focus. The best indicator of an impending launch, though, will be when Virgin Orbit works with the authorities for marking off the air and sea space for the launch. This must be done two weeks before the launch. Virgin Orbit had done this before it was given permission to do so. Whether that points to a loophole in regulation or not remains to be seen.