For the United Kingdom, a first failure in the race for satellite launches

Blow to the British space sector. While the government is pushing for the development of satellite launch sites from the UK, the first attempt on Monday, January 9, ended in failure. The satellites carried by Virgin Orbit, whose takeoff had initially gone well, were lost shortly before their launch. The moment was meant to be historic. At 10:30 p.m. local time on Monday evening, a Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 took off from an airport in Cornwall, south-west England, carrying a small rocket under its wing.

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An hour later, a little above 10,000 meters in the Irish sky, it had broken away and started its journey to place the nine small satellites it was carrying into orbit. She reached space, but a ” anomaly “ occurred during the ignition of the second stage of the rocket, which was then moving at nearly 17,000 km/h. The mission ended in failure.

The United Kingdom has always been an important player in space activity. From engines manufactured by Rolls-Royce to satellites from Inmarsat, to technology from defense firm BAE Systems, this industry generates around 16 billion pounds (18 billion euros) in turnover every year and nearly 50,000 direct jobs. But, until now, the launches had never been made from its soil.

Seven planned locations

The UK government has focused on developing launch sites in recent years, believing it has a hand in the new commercial era that has opened up for the space race. No less than seven locations are planned across the country.

The first, because the easiest to develop, was the Spaceport Cornwall, which is in fact a simple airport in Cornwall, from which the Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 was able to take off on Monday. Other sites planned for the vertical take-off of rockets, technically more difficult, are also under development. Work is underway on an island in Shetland, in the North Sea, and two others are advanced in Scotland.

Grant Shapps, the British Enterprise Minister, explains that he is targeting in particular the market for “nanosatellites”which are the size of a shoebox. “For small satellites, which have grown from 1% to 11% of the market, the UK is the right location and has the right technologies”he assured on Monday evening, when the Virgin Orbit plane had taken off and the failure of the mission was not yet known.

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