UK grants Virgin Orbit licenses to launch satellites

The UK CAA granted Virgin Orbit its licenses to begin launch services
Virgin Orbit

The United Kingdom (UK) Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted Virgin Orbit its launch and range licenses, paving the way for the company to begin its services from the UK. Previously, the authority issued the first spaceport license to Spaceport Cornwall. 

The CAA issued the final licenses to Virgin Orbit on December 21, 2022, as the company had to satisfy certain requirements in public safety, environmental protection, and international obligations. According to the aviation regulator, the publicly traded entity demonstrated that it “has taken all reasonable steps to ensure safety risks arising from launch activities are as low as reasonably practicable”. The range license means that Virgin Orbit is able to monitor the progress of any rockets it plans to launch, as well as issue warning announcements to the public to keep them out of hazardous areas throughout launch procedures. 

“Receiving Virgin Orbit’s range and launch licenses takes us one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil. This is a major milestone for the CAA and represents the successful completion of an enormous effort, which has included the construction of new regulations, new processes, and new teams,” stated Dan Hart, the CEO of Virgin Orbit. Hart mentioned the fact that together with several other parties, the company is working towards the first launch from Spaceport Cornwall, with “strong focus on a safe and successful mission for all”. 

Tim Johnson, the Director for Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said that this was “another major milestone”, as the country is preparing for its first-ever orbital space launch. “Effective licensing forms an integral part of UK space activity, and with public safety at the heart of our decision-making, we’ve worked with Virgin Orbit to assess their applications and issue licenses within our expected timelines,” Johnson added.  

The UK CAA noted that it approved all of Virgin Orbit’s licenses within 15 months, “well within the expected timescales for these types of licenses, putting the UK’s regulatory framework on a competitive footing with other international space regulators”. 

In November 2022, the authority issued the license for Spaceport Cornwall, which also serves as a civilian airport (Cornwall Airport Newquay (NQY), becoming the first spaceport in the UK to be given a spaceport license. 

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