Virgin Orbit is rescheduling next week’s launch from Cornwall, England – and was supposed to be the first space flight to take off from British soil – due to additional technical tasks and remaining regulatory hurdles.
In a statement, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company would reschedule the launch for “the next few weeks.” In addition to remaining technical work and pending launch licenses, Hart said the limited two-day launch window also caused Virgin to delay the mission. He did not specify what technical work is required for flight readiness.
Just hours after the announcement, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the regulator that licensed the launch, released its own statement to refute Virgin’s claim that remaining regulatory issues were partly to blame for the mission’s delay.
“The UK space regulatory process is not a barrier to UK space launch,” said Tim Johnson, the CAA’s director of space regulation. “Virgin Orbit said in a statement this morning that there are some technical issues that will need to be resolved before launch. They are in no way related to the time when the license will be issued by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Virgin Orbit was scheduled to launch from Cornwall Spaceport on December 14. LauncherOne, Virgin’s launch system, consists of a Boeing 747 and a rocket. The plane carries the rocket to a high altitude before launching it on its journey into space, so while it won’t be the first vertical launch from UK territory, it will be the first spaceflight mission.
The news came as something of a surprise; it wasn’t until Tuesday that Virgin officials told the media that the mission would begin after regulatory approval.