back to article License to launch: UK space regulator gives Virgin Orbit satellites the go-ahead

After some tension around a delayed launch of what will be the first satellite to go into orbit from British soil – or indeed from anywhere in western Europe – UK regulators have confirmed they've issued all licenses necessary for Virgin Orbit to deploy a rocket for horizontal takeoff from a modified Boeing 747 from Spaceport …

  1. wolfetone Silver badge
    Pint

    Good News!

    We're one step closer to launching Wierdy Beardy Branson to Mars and leaving him there!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good News!

      If only that were true. Beardie's been spouting bullshit about space launches "towards te end of next year" just about every year since Virgin Records was a thing.

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Good News!

      He should take Bezos, Musk, Gates and few others with him.

      1. Trigun

        Re: Good News!

        I'd vote for that, particularly Mr Gates :p

  2. xyz Silver badge

    I'm confused by all this...

    A plane is taking off from some airfield which is now called a spaceport for some reason. Said plane, after a bit and when presumably in international waters, then fires a rocket which goes upwards with some future space junk in it and then the plane comes back and lands. I can see the need for a take off and landing chitty but who decided that you need to short stroke some civil servants to get a permit to go up. Did Lester need chitties for LOHAN etc?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused by all this...

      You need a license for a dog so I suppose you also need one for a space rocket

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this...

        You need a license for a dog so I suppose you also need one for a space rocket

        I guess from the 's' you're leftpondian. In the UK dog licences were scrapped years ago (in 1988), but you do need a fish licence.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I'm confused by all this...

          >In the UK dog licences were scrapped years ago (in 1988),

          So you just let any dogs drive ?

          I mean a Border Collie fair enough, but I wouldn't trust a Golden Retriever

          1. captain veg Silver badge

            Re: I'm confused by all this...

            Just this.

            -A.

          2. LogicGate Silver badge

            Re: I'm confused by all this...

            In German they have the term "Führerhund" so anything may be possible ...

            (Yes, I know, "Blindenhund" is, for some strange reason, the current go-to terminology, but I think that the original terminology has more of an .... impact)

          3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: I'm confused by all this...

            I mean a Border Collie fair enough, but I wouldn't trust a Golden Retriever

            Not all border collies are good drivers.

        2. Trigun

          Re: I'm confused by all this...

          "...but you do need a fish licence."

          As long and they're called Eric. And let's not forget the Bees (called Eric) licenses!

          1. GioCiampa

            Re: I'm confused by all this...

            Half a (bee) licence, surely...?

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused by all this...

      One of the selling points for Pegasus (the original US version of this 30years ago) was that it could fly to your site, pick up your package and deliver it to space directly rather than having to ship it to Edwards AFB/Cape Canaveral

      If the UK insists that you need a licence from them, presumably also from the place you pick it up and then from the area you launch from - it's going to get a lot faster/better/cheaper to just ship your package to Texas and let TwitterX deliver it

      But IIRC Lohan went to Spain because they couldn't use the rocket motors in the UK and couldn't get some other permission in the USA

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this...

        One might suspect the authorities would like to limit aircraft flying with huge external canisters of fuel and oxidant, a object that if accidentally dropped becomes what is better known as a bomb.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this...

        it's going to get a lot faster/better/cheaper to just ship your package to Texas and let TwitterX deliver it

        Especially if Branson uses Evri (Hermes as was) for shipping.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm confused by all this...

          > Evri (Hermes as was) for shipping.

          Proof that if you change your name in an attempt to shed your godawful reputation (as Hermes did in the UK), it won't work if you don't also improve your service.

          (Company I work for repeatedly had Hermes not collect parcels on the expected day because the contracted driver had quit. IIRC the straw that broke the camels back was when we had parcels that were put out on Monday still not collected by Friday, with no notice or explanation given.)

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: I'm confused by all this... @xyz

      Yes. Lester required a lot of licenses and other paperwork.

      This included for the balloon tests, (which were actually flown by balloonists in the UK who already had the required balloon licenses), explosives licenses (which he was unable to get in Spain, one of the reasons he sent it to America) and for the actual launch from Spaceport America, something which never actually happened.

      In fact, if I remember correctly, he nearly tripped over shipping LOHAN to America, because the wood of the shipping crate that contained LOHAN did not have the required markings to indicate that it was allowed to be imported to the US because of some plant material import control or other. He complained that that generated a lot of paperwork at the time.

      IIRC (again), everything was ready to launch in the US, except for the actual flight license. There seemed to be some problem with the FAA about the trajectory of flight as a result of it being launched from a balloon, something about not being able to guarantee it would not fly outside the designated flight range, although some comments at the time cited a not-invented-here conspiracy by US officials.

      In the end, Lester sadly passed away before this had been ironed out, so the flight never actually happened.

      I have been saying repeatedly that we ought to find and re-repatriate LOHAN, so that it could be put on display, but I guess that now El. Reg. seems to have become Americanized, maybe it should stay in the US.

      Lester Haines. Sadly gone, but not forgotten (he says while taking a swig of tea from his LOHAN mug, all the time wishing for a pint denied as a result of a medical condition).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this... @xyz

        That brought a tear to my eye, especially as I'm reading it on a Friday evening with a pint of beer in my LOHAN glass tankard :-/

    4. Fursty Ferret

      Re: I'm confused by all this...

      >> A plane is taking off from some airfield which is now called a spaceport for some reason.

      Said (elderly) plane has to overfly quite a lot of inhabited land with an unusual and extremely heavy load bolted to the wing spar. I'd quite like it to be thoroughly tested and licensed before they get to do this.

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this...

        Newquay spaceport is located right on the north coast of Cornwall, so not much inhabited land to fly over on its way out the the launch area in the Atlantic.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm confused by all this...

      There are international treaties that say that a country is responsible for stuff launched into space from that country. Even if they fly over international air space on the way.

      For example, the US has had to pay up for crashed satellites in the past, when they re-entered and landed in another country. This is a good thing.

      So, every country with a launch capability says that satellites and launchers need a license if they are going to launch from their territory. To get a license, the government will have to be convinced that the proposed launch or satellite does not pose a danger to other satellites, or manned spacecraft, or people or property on the ground.

      Satellites and launchers also need third party insurance. Like a car does, but the insurance is more expensive. This is usually a condition of the launch license.

      There are also requirements not to contribute to space junk - satellites have to be designed to deorbit within 25 years, and the licensing authority has to check this. This is an international standard though I don't think it's actually a treaty, but if you want a launch license then you will have to show you comply.

      Satellites and launchers are controlled by radio. So, as with any other radio transmitter, they need a radio licence. The frequency allocation has to be coordinated internationally to ensure the transmitter does not cause problems for anyone that is being overflown. Again, getting a radio licence is required to get a launch license.

      There can also be issues with sensors. The UK government does not want to be launching foreign spy satellites that will be used against the UK. So any cameras or radars or other sensors will have to be declared, and many countries will deny a launch license if the camera is too good.

    6. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused by all this...

      I'm confused as well. A plane takes off from Cornwall and flies to the mid-Atlantic carrying a rocket before releasing it. How is this a UK based launch of the rocket?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this...

        100% of the subsidy innovation investment in the regions grant comes from the UK

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused by all this...

        Because the aircraft is merely the first booster stage.

        In any multi staged rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, the first stage heads out over the Atlantic before dropping off leaving the second stage to boost to orbit.

  3. Trigun
    Joke

    "UK's galactic gateway"

    Sounds unpleasant!

    Seriously, it's good to see something moving forward in the UK with relation to space, etc.

    Although the ideo of a Cornish spaceport sounds amusing. I expect they'll be offering duty free pasties...

    1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      I'm kind of irked by all this. Watergate Bay (just along from the Airport / Space Port) was a little jewel, a few nice campsites, a couple of decent (dog friendly) pubs and good surf. We used to go a couple of times a year. Then Jamie Oliver located his frikking '15' restaurant on top of the beach bar, and the place got gentrified. The beach bar became an overspill facility for people that couldn't get into 15, and was then a bistro instead of a beach bar. More flats were built, now it's a freaking Space Port. What next, a usable 3G signal? Bah!

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Mushroom

        >Then Jamie Oliver located his frikking '15' restaurant on top of the beach bar, and the place got gentrified.

        You could always see if you can get the USAF to bring back the nukes to RAF St Mawgan, that'd put that annoying Mockney off...

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        We would just like to remind all Londoners and southerners in general that Yorkshire (especially North Yorks) remains a desolate wasteland populated by flat cap/flat vowelled zombies and gentrification would be impossible.

        PS Harrogate is a myth

      3. Nicodemus's Knob

        Sausage rolls

        Downvoted cos I happen to think Jamie's sausage rolls are tasty.

    2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Now they need to find a way how to get a massive amount of tax payer money to put *something* in space where nobody will be able to check if they actually put it and what it was.

  4. R Soul Silver badge

    liicences, nor licenses

    In the civilised world, licence is a noun and license is a verb.

    The Register simply must stop its dalliance with vile Americanisms.

    1. First Light

      Re: liicences, nor licenses

      I would prefer British English also, at least for articles about non-US stories. However it appears that ship has sailed.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: liicences, nor licenses

        That's not a reason it can't come back.

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: liicences, nor licenses

        The ship sailed in 1492. A great many of the "Americanisms" that annoy us Brits are in fact retentions of earlier English that failed to evolve in parallel with British English. (Pots, kettles, trousers, pants etc.). Furthermore, bearing in mind that formalised spelling is a relative innovation, such variation is primarily a matter of pure chance.

    2. Emir Al Weeq

      Re: liicences, nor licenses

      My thoughts too...

      UK regulators don't issue "licenses", they may however issue "licences".

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: liicences, nor licenses

        After all, the BBC don't use "Prime Minister" when talking about the leader of the Irish Parliament. They use the Irish words for Prime Minister and Parliamnet and put the English translation in brackets. Likewise, the Register article about the Indian Manned space programme also use the Indian word for Parliament and then tell us native English speakers that it mean Parliament. So if they can localise for other nationalities, why not for all nationalities?

        I assume at some stage we'll all have to call the Indian astronauts by the local Indian designation the same way space articles always differentiate between "western"[*] Astronauts, Russian Cosmonauts and Chines Taikonauts.

        * I say "western" because English language media never tells us what the local language words are for the various other nationalities who have been to space are.

  5. spireite Silver badge
    Joke

    The space food future

    .... It's a freeze dried Ginster pasty...

    Arguably they are dry enough they don't need the treatment

  6. Lon24

    Second Life

    One possibly remarkable aspect of this project opens up another life for the venerable 747. Will it eventually outlive its older brother -the B-52 Stratofortress. That entered service in 1955, 15 years before the 747. The B-52 is planned to have another couple of decades service after another re-engining. But then 20 years was pretty optimistic in 1955 - so let's say it will be retired when fusion power becomes practical.

    Will the 747 beat that? It's a beefy machine and will require few flight hours so it shouldn't need wing spars or other difficult replacements that might end its career. I suppose A-380s might be able to lift heavier rockets when retired from passenger service. I suspect this esteemed journal may have a few more knowledgeable planespotters than me.

    Prepare for take-off.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Second Life

      Unlikely, the B52s are operated by a organisation with an infinite budget and many of the long lived ones were originally only for use in "delivering special presents to your special best friends" so got very few flight hours.

      In terms of years in use, there are probably DC3s flying somewhere. There was a place in Switzerland that did sight seeing trips in a J52 until they had an unfortunate incident with an Alp.

    2. Lon24

      Re: Second Life

      Another thought. Slinging the rocket under the wing increases drag, presumably affecting the max height it can be launched plus a bigger rocket might fall fail of the 737 Max problem - the undercarriage was only designed to keep the original engines off the ground. The yaw induced must lead to interesting handling.

      Fitting bomb doors would get around those problems. Sorted and 747s or A-380s could also have another life as B-52 replacements :--)

      Guess some bright spark might attempt to lance that fantasy with boring facts about fuselage design >:-(

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Second Life

        Ideally a plane with a decent take off weight, internal bomb bays, ability to get upto 50-60,000 ft and proven ability to get into airspace it wants despite an entire air defence network and 1000s of fighters trying to stop it.

        https://www.theregister.com/2015/07/01/vulcans_last_flight/

        1. Lon24

          Re: Second Life

          Granted a Vulcan can do all that with grace. But it never had to face the Civil Aviation Agency in its glory days. Otherwise it would never have got to the Falklands and back.

          I believe it was the formidable CAA, not the Argies or Ruskies, who finally downed the last one.

          1. EvilDrSmith Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Second Life

            To be fair to the CAA (not that I know why we should be), it was more old age that did for XH558's flying life.

            She was old, the spares supplies were running out, the number of people qualified to fly her were getting older/fewer, the number of people that were qualified to maintain her were getting old/fewer. It also tends to get overlooked that a chunk of the British defence Industry actively helped keep her flying (including I think both BAe and Rolls Royce), and those companies had the same issue with the old-timers retiring, and increasingly couldn't help.

            So here's a pint to XH558.

            1. Stork Silver badge

              Re: Second Life

              How do they keep WWII planes flying then (legally)?

              1. Jon 37

                Re: Second Life

                They tend to be a lot simpler.

                Compare maintenance of a standard bicycle versus a reasonably modern car. Any competent mechanical person can repair the bike. The modern car will depend on specialist parts that are a lot harder to make.

                (Ok, the example takes it to extremes. It's not that bad. But you get the idea).

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Second Life

                  "(Ok, the example takes it to extremes. It's not that bad. But you get the idea)."

                  I don't agree. That's not an extreme example at all. It's spot on. Compare replacing a pedal, spoke or chain on a bike with a set of blades that are past their Best Before date in a jet engine. There's a good chance you can't even get the specs never mind someone able to make them and get them certified for flight.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Second Life

                How do they keep WWII planes flying then (legally)?

                I'm guessing it's down to complexity, the V bombers were a leap ahead in technology compared to WWII aircraft. If you crack a piston in a Lancaster Merlin engine, I'm sure its possible to cast and machine a new one relatively easily, but you can't just machine a new jet engine compressor rotor or bearing, you need a replacement supplied by the original manufacturer. I don't know about the Vulcan Olympus engine rotors, but modern day Rolls Royce high temperature compressor rotors have to be grown from molten alloy into a single crystal of metal before being machined, not something you can do down at the local machine shop...

                1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                  Re: Second Life

                  >How do they keep WWII planes flying then (legally)?

                  Grandfathered-in regulations and a lot of precision loophole navigation.

                  There are a couple of companies that will build you a Spitfire from scratch using modern components, all you need is the VIN plate from a crashed plane so that this is a "restoration" and no modern airworthiness rules apply

          2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

            Re: Second Life

            I doubt the venerable Vulcan would be welcomed to a rural airport even if it were possible. I used to live on RAF Scampton during the cold war, and Vulcans were quite loud, when the sirens sounded, and the Vulcans scrambled into the air, the windows used to rattle.

        2. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Second Life

          ...proven ability to get into airspace it wants despite an entire air defence network...

          How the Vulcans defeated the US defences was simple, they were 30 minutes behind the low level bombers so when they came into the theatre none of the US interceptors had enough fuel left to climb to the Vulcan's altitude. In true General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmany Melchett fashion they did exactly the same thing the next year and it worked again. Both times 7 out of 8 Vulcan hit their targets and returned unscathed, the other two got a bit scathed.

          A favourite Vulcan story was when on a later US intruder exercises a pair of US interceptors found a Vulcan flying at 150 feet and thought their luck was in until they made their approach and a pair of Buccaneers peeled off from under the Vulcan.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Second Life

            Even funnier; a year later they did exactly the same thing, told the USAF they were going to do the same thing, from the same bases to the same targets - but this time they turned on jamming the interceptor's radar.

            You didn't do that last time complained the defenders, "Yes obviously" was the reaction from the mustached service

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Second Life

        >The yaw induced must lead to interesting handling.

        The 747 can famously fly with an extra spare engine under one wing (it's how Quantas planned to get a replacement engine to Oz in a hurry if necessary)

    3. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Second Life

      I spotted a DC-3 in a polar research article, NatGeo I think. They had swapped the engines for some turboprop jobs, though.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Second Life

        It's a problem operating piston engines in Northern Canada - they run on high-octane (often leaded) petrol which is hard to get, so you have to fly in fuel supplies to supply your cargo aircraft - which ends up being a bit self defeating.

        Turbo-props run on kerosene, or even diesel in a pinch, so fuel is much more available

  7. Howard Sway Silver badge

    one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil.

    Does being dropped from a plane above the atlantic really count as "from UK soil"?

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil.

      The first stage is taking off from the UK.

      How is it any different from a multi stage rocket?

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil.

        How is it any different from a multi stage rocket?

        Well a traditional multi-stage rocket launch has a lot of infrastructure are the launch site, support towers, tracking radar, etc. That represents a significant investment.

        Here we have basically a plane launch and a boat-load of publicity. Like the 30 year old Pegasus launcher, if Virgin is successful it does not need Cornwall as it can basically launch from any airport that can take a 747. Probably the launch tracking is a mobile unit already...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: one step closer to the first satellite launch take-off from UK soil.

          There is a new hangar at Spaceport Cornwall, big enough for the rocket to go in horizontally, and with a cleanroom to attach the satellites.

          So there are some facilities needed.

  8. TheInstigator

    I do wonder

    Why the UK Government feels the need to do let Virgin do this - I mean - you've already got American tech up there, and the UK is America's b**** so .... why bother?

  9. Colin Bain

    Hyperbole!

    Galactic Gateway in Cornwall. Is this also the county where the kids entered Narnia?

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