Flybe apologises as airport shuts ahead of first UK space launch

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl aircraft carrier arrives in Cornwall

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Airliner Flyby has been forced to apologise to travellers after cancelling flights at late notice to make way for the UK’s first-ever space launch. In a historic moment for the UK space sector, Virgin Orbit’s rocket will blast into the so-called low-Earth orbit from the Newquay Airport Cornwall. While the event, named Start Me Up, has been hailed as a flagship moment for Britain’s burgeoning space sector, not everyone is best pleased. 

Julian Perreira tweeted “Flight’s been cancelled!”, adding that the news came at “very late notice”.

The message which informed him of the cancellation, read: “We have received notification of your flight the BE808 being cancelled on the 9th of January 2023 due to Richard Branson launching a SpaceFlight flight from Newquay airport that evening. I am very sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.”

Flyby later responded: “We’re sorry Julian, the airport will be closing later today. Our team will have reached out to support with alternative arrangements.”

The so-called “launch window” will open from 10:16pm tonight, but the teams involved will need to ensure everything is running smoothly to allow for Virgin Orbit’s modified jumbo jet to launch for the runway at Newquay Airport Cornwall.


Unlike the titanic launches usually performed by space giants like NASA and SpaceX, where rockets blast off straight up into the sky in a “vertical launch”, the Virgin Orbit launch will be “horizontal”. 

This means that the adapted Boeing 747, dubbed “Cosmic Girl”, can take off like a normal plane from the Spaceport Cornwall’s runway at the airport on the southwest coast. However, Cosmic Girl will be carrying LauncherOne, a 70-foot-long rocket, under its wing. 

The rocket will be ferried 35,000 feet up into the atmosphere before being dropped from beneath the wing of the plane, at which point it will use its own power to go blasting into low-Earth orbit carrying nine small satellites. 

A Virgin Orbit Spokesperson said: “Given the number of ‘firsts’ being executed for this launch — the first orbital launch from UK soil or from anywhere in western Europe — Virgin Orbit and its partners will maintain a conservative posture with regard to system health, weather, and all other elements of scheduling.”


Start Me Up is a collaborative effort with the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the Royal Air Force, and Cornwall Council. 

Spaceport Cornwall head Melissa Thorpe said: “This is a phenomenal moment with incredible international collaboration.

“Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency and all of our partners are breaking new ground to transform access to space across the world from right here in Cornwall.

“My team at Spaceport Cornwall have worked so hard to get this far and we wish everyone the best of luck as the launch window opens, we are ready.”

This is a breaking story. More to follow. 

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