Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – The remote Cornwall region, in the southwest corner of England, rarely looks like the center of the world.
But recently, residents have felt admirably close as they watched a very low-flying private jet take off from the runway at tiny Newquay Airport, the UK’s 29th largest airport, and soar into the coastal skies before landing again.
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It’s not just an airplane. Nor is it an ordinary Boeing 747, as it appears from the ground. Indeed, it is the ‘Queen of the Sky’ that is being redirected to compete in the space race, taking test flights before taking part in the UK’s first orbital space launch next month. It will take off from Spaceport Cornwall, which shares the airport’s regular 1.7-mile runway.
Mark Andrew, from the nearby town of Newquay, traveled to the spaceport after work to see the plane land this week.
“It was amazing to watch, and it would be nice to tell my little boy when he gets older,” he told CNN. She is now preparing to return for a November issue.
“Cosmic Girl,” as the plane was christened, is Virgin Orbit’s commitment to launching seven satellites into space.
It’s a former jumbo jet in service with Virgin Atlantic until 2015, which has been modified to carry the LauncherOne, a California-made rocket that will be placed in Earth orbit.
Cosmic Girl, a former Virgin Atlantic 747, will be launched from Cornwall, UK. Credit: Virgin Orbit
Next month, “Cosmic Girl” will take off from Newquay’s airstrip with LauncherOne under its wing, and once the 747 reaches 34,000 feet, it will launch the rocket.
Inside it will be seven payloads, or satellites, which will begin to orbit the planet in low Earth orbit.
In last year’s test, the missile fired from the left wing of a 747, blasting it up to 17,000 miles per hour into space.
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Using the 747 for horizontal launch allows “a wider range of orbits than would be possible with a conventional ground launch system,” Virgin Orbit wrote in a statement.
The event will be the UK’s first orbital space launch and Virgin Orbit’s first international launch, according to the company. It will also be the first satellite launch in Europe, according to Ian Annette, deputy director general of the British Space Agency.
LauncherOne completed its first full launch rehearsal in Long Beach, California on October 2 before being flown to the UK last Friday for a reunion with Cosmic Girl, who arrived in Cornwall on October 11.
Cosmic Girl completed a nearly three-hour test flight around Cornwall and southwest England on October 14, and Cornishman watched them fly low over their gardens.
Rocket LauncherOne has joined Cosmic Girl at Newquay Spaceport. Credit: Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit chief pilot Matthew Stannard, who will fly the 747 at launch, said: “It feels great to bring the Cosmic Girl to the UK. We are weeks away from the first UK launch at Spaceport Cornwall, so this is all very real.”
“Seeing the infrastructure in place makes our launch ambitions a reality,” said Melissa Thorpe, Director of Spaceport Cornwall.
Are you hoping to see more cosmic girls? Virgin Orbit plans horizontal launches in Australia, Brazil, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea.
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