Space

Countdown: RAF pilot set for UK's first space satellite launch

An RAF pilot is preparing for the UK's first satellite launch after delivering seven craft into space from California.

Squadron Leader Matthew 'Stanny' Stannard is on secondment from the RAF to Virgin Orbit – and used a modified 747 jet to deliver a rocket to an altitude, of 500km above the earth's surface, before launching it.

Now all eyes are on the next mission planned to take off from Cornwall later in the year.

Sir Richard Branson's US company Virgin Orbit has successfully placed seven spacecraft in orbit from California and is now focused on moving their operations to England.

Sqn Ldr Stannard said that the "collaboration is not something new, but we are just demonstrating how a private company can come in and be a vital part of the military to launch satellites".

The RAF pilot said the most recent mission "went exactly how we thought it would".

He said: "It was our first night-time launch. When you add that on to what we did on our last launch, which was the first flight through inclement weather, [and] this one was at night, it's just adding to that capability each time.

"And when we look to the future, we are going to do our first international operation out of the UK.

"So every flight we are doing we are just adding to the capability that we've got and demonstrating that," he added.

The UK's first-ever orbital satellite launch will take place from a spaceport in Cornwall in late August or early September.

The hope is that this will help the UK Armed Forces gain a technological edge while also inspiring a new generation of British space scientists.

Virgin Orbit uses a modified 747 'Cosmic Girl' to carry the rocket to altitude before releasing it skyward 06072022 CREDIT Virgin Orbit.jpg
Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 'Cosmic Girl' to carry the rocket to altitude before releasing it skyward (Picture: Virgin Orbit).

In its payload will be two Cubesats that it is hoped will pave the way for a new generation of British military satellites.

The plan is for the satellites to spend the next five years travelling in low earth orbit 340 miles above the planet. 

Operating as a pair, at about 50 miles apart, they will be beaming back data as they circle the globe at 17,000 miles an hour. 

The satellites are being launched from the Virgin Orbit's Launcher One, a rocket carried under the modified Boeing 747, nicknamed Cosmic Girl.