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The UK is set for a historic moment this November as the first-ever rocket is set to blast off into space from British soil, and Express.co.uk reveals how people can go and watch it live. Express.co.uk spoke exclusively to CEO of Spaceport Cornwall Melissa Thorpe, the site where Virgin Orbit’s modified Being 747 plane carrying the Launcher One rocket under its wing will take off from, to find out more details about the upcoming launch. She explained that spectators are welcome to head on down to the site at Cornwall Airport Newquay if they sign up for a free ticket, where they can watch a rocket take seven payloads – an object that is carried on a rocket and sent into orbit – up into space.
Ms Thorpe said: “This time next week we will have a bit more information out about what it is going to look like, but we will have a public event at the airport. It will be at night, but we have a lot of people that want to come and see as much as they possibly can.
“We are going to have an area where people can come and safely watch the take-off, we will have big screen TVs up with cameras on the rocket and the satellites themselves. It will be a mixed production in terms of the sound and the smell of the airfield. But the visuals, as it will be at night, a lot of it will come from the screen.”
When asked how many people will be allowed to come and watch, Ms Thorpe said: “It is hard to know until we test the waters a little bit. We are just finalising the plans for the area. We are going to ticket it, but for free, just so we can gauge numbers. We will put batches of tickets out over the coming weeks if they are interested.”
In the coming weeks, the Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit teams are also preparing for a “wet dress rehearsal”.
Ms Thorpe said: “A wet dress rehearsal is when they load the rocket with fuel and they make sure everything is working and is efficient and safe on the rocket, then they unload it as well. The next time they do that will be for the launch.”
During the launch, the altered Being 747, which has been dubbed “Cosmic Girl”, will take off at around midnight and then head out to a point over the Atlantic Ocean off the southwest tip of Ireland.
Cosmic Girl will then fly laps in a “racetrack”-shaped flight path while the launch engineers get the rocket ready for ignition and make the final checks before they give a “go” for launch signal and initiate a 16-minute countdown.
Following this, the pilot will detach Launcher One from beneath the wing at about 36,000ft, which will freefall for a few seconds before the plane maneuvers away.
The rocket will then ignite and accelerate at up to 22 times the speed of sound, zooming south-southwest over the Atlantic before leaving the Earth’s atmosphere and entering into orbit at a blistering speed of 17,200mph.
The modified Boeing 747 will be piloted by flight Lieutenant Mathew ‘Stanny’ Stannard, who will be joined by launch engineers Bryce Schaefer, and Dayle Alexander.
Ms Thorpe is part of a small team, with Spaceport Cornwall only set to have seven team members on site for the launch. Virgin Orbit will have 50 crew members, a mix of engineers, satellite technicians and operations.
And so far, preparations seem to be going smoothly. Ms Thorpe added: “Things are going amazing. I am currently stood outside and I can see Cosmic Girl, it doesn’t get much better than this at the moment. All the equipment came in last week so we are settling Virgin into the site, their equipment and their staff…this week is all about settling in.”
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While this will certainly be a landmark event and a huge flagship for the UK’s burgeoning space sector, Spaceport Cornwall is hoping that this will kickstart a UK-based space launch revolution.
Ms Thorpe said: “This is definitely the first of many and not a one-hit-wonder. It is the first of what is going to be a sustained business activity over the coming years for launching with Virgin…we will have other launch operators coming to use the site now that we are open for businesses.”
Sam O’Dwyer, Managing Director, Cornwall Airport Newquay, commented: “We are incredibly proud to be involved in this innovative project to enable space launch from Cornwall Airport Newquay with Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit.
“The team effort that has gone into developing a spaceport facility to deliver safe and secure space operations for the UK’s first ever space launch has been simply inspiring and I’d like to say a massive well done to my team.”
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