The first orbital satellites to set off for space from Western Europe are to launch on Monday from Cornwall in southwest England.
Virgin Orbit – part-owned by billionaire Richard Branson, who founded the Virgin Atlantic airline – plans to use a modified Boeing 747 with a rocket attached under its wing for the first time outside the company’s base in the United States.
Once the plane is at around 10,670 metres (35,000 feet), the rocket will be released over the Atlantic, taking small satellites from seven customers into orbit in what is known as a horizontal launch.
The mission has been given a window for takeoff from 10:16pm (2216 GMT) but that is dependent on the weather and other scheduling and system issues. Virgin Orbit said there are backup dates in mid- and late January.
“You obviously want the best weather as possible to ensure the best performance out of the system and to get the satellites exactly where they need to be,” said Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall.