The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is partnering with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (UK MOD) on the historic, first commercial rocket to be launched from the UK, as announced at Defence Space 2022 by Defence Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin.
Virgin Orbit will send nine, multinational rideshares to orbit using the LauncherOne small launch platform and a modified Boeing 747 aircraft later in 2022.
This mission—launching UK MOD Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s two Prometheus 2 smallsats—is the latest example of increased UK and international space cooperation. This be the first launch from British soil and will also be the first commercial launch from Western Europe. Launching from the UK marks a continued expansion of NRO’s overseas launch locations in addition to New Zealand providing NRO with the ability to launch from three continents.
LauncherOne expands NRO’s innovative launch capabilities as the agency’s first, horizontal launch. A modified Boeing 747 aircraft, Cosmic Girl, with the LauncherOne rocket will take off from Spaceport Cornwall located at Newquay Airport in Cornwall, England. Additional information on launch timing will be made available from the UK Space Agency and UK Civil Aviation Authority.
“Since its inception more than 60 years ago, NRO has been pushing the boundaries – finding ever-more innovative ways to leverage space in order to secure and expand our intelligence advantage, and protect and defend the United States and our allies,” said NRO Director, Dr. Chris Scolese. “It’s an honor to join the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence in announcing this historic enterprise. We look forward to this remarkable achievement as the foundation of an even stronger collaboration between our nations.”
“This is a great example of the power of international collaboration – a key tenet of our Defence Space Strategy,” said UK MOD Director Space, Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth.”