Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, says: “We are at the stage of moving from planning to delivery to get ready to launch early next year.
“The Virgin Orbit model means they can be a mobile launch platform and take the launch to their customer base.”
And now it is not just Cornwall that is preparing for take off. Astraius, a new UK venture founded by Navy and Fleet Air Arm veterans, is hoping to deliver launch capability from Scotland as soon as 2023. It could signal the start of a domestic space race to air-to-orbit launches.
“We are bringing the UK sovereign launch capacity for the first time,” says Kevin Seymour, a former Harrier jet pilot and Astraius’s chief executive. “We will be supporting the wider space ambition for the UK. 40pc of small satellites are being built in Scotland and we can plug into that.”
Rather than launching under wing like Virgin Orbit, Astraius says its rockets will be dropped out of the back of C-17 cargo planes, which require no modification, at high altitude. These rockets then drop on a parachute before blasting off. It is planning to raise £50m from investors to bring its technology to Scotland.
It is not an entirely new idea, although it has not been commercialised before. The US military has used C-17s as a launch pad for rockets in the past.
The hope for Astraius is that a UK company can make air-to-orbit work more cheaply than Virgin Orbit, which currently only has one suitable plane.
While air-to-orbit technology promises a swift route to a sovereign launch capability, not everyone is convinced. One industry source says: “In theory it is fine, but what is going to be the maximum payload?”
This Article firstly Publish on www.telegraph.co.uk