‘Union Jack flying!’ UK pays ‘tribute to Queen’ with first-ever launch from British soil

Richard Dinan on the future of space travel

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Virgin Orbit will pay its respects to Her Majesty this summer when its Launcher One blasts satellites from Spaceport Cornwall into low-Earth orbit. The mission, dubbed Prometheus-2, will see Virgin Orbit’s rocket taking off horizontally from a modified Boeing 747 jet to carry Cubesat satellites into space. These systems provide a test platform for monitoring radio signals such as GPS and sophisticated imaging and will be used by the Ministry of Defence.

Defence Procurement Minister, Jeremy Quin said: ”Space technology is crucial for developing Defence capabilities and the launch of Prometheus-2 represents another important step forward for our homegrown space programme.

“This collaboration with In-Space Missions and Airbus paves the way for the UK to become a more resilient, more robust and more significant global space entity.”

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Spaceport Cornwall CEO Melissa Thorpe said: “We are planning to launch this summer and it will be a tribute to the UK space industry as well as the Queen’s Jubilee.”

A spokesperson from the UK Space Agency added: “Everyone involved in the first UK launch, from our British satellite manufacturers to our international partners, wants to use this opportunity to honour Her Majesty the Queen.

“We expect to see the Union Jack flying and the Jubilee emblem visible, as UK space history is made later this summer.”

Virgin Orbit’s groundbreaking technology can shoot satellites into the cosmos via a rocket carried under the wing of a modified Boeing jet.

Ms Thorpe believes this technology will help bring significant launch capabilities to the UK.

She said: “Our ambitions are to prove that the UK can launch to space.

“To be that first sovereign launch this summer is number one on our list.”

Britain has never launched a rocket into orbit from its own soil.

Back in the Sixties, the UK built the Black Arrow rocket, which was launched from Australia in 1971.

And just like waiting for buses, two space launches have now come along at once for the UK.

SaxaVord Spaceport has announced that it will host a “dress rehearsal” for a small rocket launch taking place at its Lamba Ness site in Shetland later this year.

The launch, dubbed Operation Freya, will see a portable Asgard launch pad system built on the Lamba Ness peninsula that is being prepared for the spaceport’s construction right now.

It will allow the SaxaVord operational team to assess and prepare for a much bigger launch vehicle that is set to be blasted into orbit later this year.

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And this practice run makes for great timing as the company plans to pay homage to the Queen during her Jubilee celebration.

SaxaVord Spaceport announced its plans to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year by naming Pad Three at Lamba Ness “Launch Pad Elizabeth”.

The rocket being used in the practice launch will be less than three metres tall and will reach 12,000 feet before heading back down to Earth.

The rocket will then return by splashing down into the sea with the assistance of a parachute.

Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said: “This exercise will mark another exciting step in SaxaVord and Shetland’s journey towards becoming the home of the UK’s first vertical launch spaceport.”

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