Start Me Up: All Permits Go!6th Jan 2023
Virgin Orbit announced on 6th January that it had completed its final full rehearsal for the Start Me Up mission. Moreover, the Civil Aviation Authority announced on 5th January that it had issued all of the licences for the satellites involved in the mission. With those blocks in place, Virgin Orbit has announced that the launch window opens on 9th January.
The Irish authorities have also issued notices regarding the seas off its southern coast for several dates starting with 9th January. Virgin Orbit’s press release states that the 9th is the “official” opening date for the launch window.
Start me up licences – impatience or dragging feet?
Complaints over the time needed to obtain permits built up after the CAA issued a launch licence for Spaceport Cornwall but not for Virgin Orbit in November 2022. When CAA issued the Virgin Orbit licence in December, the authority noted that the process took 15 months, which was three months shorter than its own estimates when the licencing process started. Virgin Orbit may have tried to push the licencing process forward by requesting changes to air and sea routes in mid-December.
After the launch company received its licence, however there was little clarity regarding what other steps needed to be taken. In December, Virgin Orbit referred to fueling practice drills. Observers also noted the need to obtain licences for each of the satellites on board. However, the process has been opaque to outside viewers.
Dawn of a new era
The Start Me Up launch will bring forward a variety of satellite technologies regarding security and defence for the UK as well as the U.S. government. However, it is also notable for launching the first-ever Welsh-built satellite and the Sultanate of Oman’s first satellite.
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