UK Launch A Success, Then Not

9th Jan 2023
UK Launch A Success, Then Not

UPDATE 2246 UTC. Virgin Orbit announces that an anomaly has occurred “that will prevent the mission from being completed”. The Stage 2 first burn had been successful, at first glance.


The United Kingdom became the first European country to launch a rocket that could reach orbit. Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, successfully released its rocket, LauncherOne, from 31,000 ft over the Irish Sea at 2211 UTC. The Start Me Up mission showcases Virgin Orbit’s ability to launch from sites worldwide that the 747 can fly from, and places Spaceport Cornwall firmly on the map as the UK’s first spaceport and the first orbital UK launch.

Goonhilly Earth Station’s role

Goonhilly Earth Station (GES), which provided ranging, tracking and communications services for November 2022’s Artemis I mission to the Moon, plays an important role in the UK launch. GES worked with Virgin Orbit to provide communications and telemetry. GES notes that along with the resources already found in the UK, the company also created “a turn-key 5m ground station and deployed it to Ireland, which VO’s US team will use to monitor the rocket after visibility is lost from Newquay.”


Moreover, GES will provide tracking, command and communications services for the IOD-3 AMBER-1 satellite. GES previously supported AMBER’s builder, Satellite Applications Catapult, in the development phase.

AMBER-1 is a Maritime Domain Awareness satellite. The satellite will geolocate and monitor signals from ships such as their radar and phone use. The data AMBER collects will be used by the UK government and commercial clients for example, in combating smuggling and illegal oil and gas transshipments as well as tracking for insurance purposes.

Congratulations on the first of many

UPDATE: As of now, Cosmic Girl is back safely at Spaceport Cornwall. The aircraft and it’s crew performed admirably, and showed that an orbit-capable rocket can indeed be launched from the UK.

Orbital Today sends its congratulations to the many teams who put this mission together, despite the failure during Stage 2. From the satellite designers and builders to the Virgin Orbit launch and Spaceport Cornwall site teams and beyond to the support and services companies throughout the South West, as well as those in Wales and beyond, the Start Me Up mission can be considered a success due to your combined efforts.

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