Spaceport Cornwall was granted the historic licence on Wednesday after meeting safety, security and environmental requirements
Migrant smugglers will be tracked from space after Britain was given the green light to launch satellites.
Spaceport Cornwall was granted the historic licence on Wednesday after the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it had met safety, security and environmental requirements.
It will finally allow Virgin Orbit to carry out horizontal satellite launches from Britain once the company receives permission.
The company has been facing an anxious wait after its plane and rocket arrived in Cornwall in October and the CAA said it was in the advanced stages to give final approval for lift-off.
Among the payload due to be launched in the first flight will be a satellite which started life in a garage in Reading designed to stop people smugglers from illegally trafficking migrants.
The Amber-1 satellite has been built by British start-up Horizon Technologies and works by hunting for satellite phone and radar signals coming from boats that have switched off their automatic identification systems (AIS) transponders to avoid detection.
It will make regular sweeps over Earth’s waters looking for the tell-tale signals of illegal activity and feed the information back to the UK Joint Maritime Security Centre and the Royal Navy.
The satellite could stop migrants ever reaching the English Channel, as well as being used to spot piracy and terrorism and identify ships such as Russian tankers which illegally traffic fuel to fund the war in Ukraine.
John Beckner, CEO of Horizon, had the idea while in South Africa during the Somali pirate crisis when he realised criminals were communicating via satellite telephones, which could be tracked.
“For people moving long distances, they use sat phones to communicate, both the refugees themselves and their smuggler bosses.”
Virgin Orbit’s Start Me Up mission, which is now expected to launch within weeks, will mark the first time in history that a satellite launch has been conducted from British soil.
Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, said: “The cosmic cornerstone is being laid for the UK’s first orbital space launch.
“Virgin Orbit’s planned launch reinforces our position as a leading space nation as we look to the future of spaceflight, which can spur growth and innovation across the sector, as well as creating thousands of jobs and apprenticeships.”
Unlike usual vertical launches, the satellites take off in a rocket attached to a former Virgin Atlantic 747 passenger plane – dubbed Cosmic Girl. At around 35,000ft the rocket detaches and launches into space.
Cosmic Girl arrived at Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay in October for loading and was initially scheduled to take off this week. But delays in licensing have pushed back the first mission.
Earlier this month, the Science and Technology Select Committee criticised the CAA for taking so long to process the licence saying it was holding up Britain’s space industry.
The satellite built by Horizon Technologies works by hunting for satellite phone and radar signals
Other satellites to be launched on Cosmic Girl include ForgeStar, the first satellite developed in Wales and which can make computer chips and crystals in the weightless environment of space.
An Earth observation satellite built by Oman will be the country’s first-ever orbital mission.
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By Sarah Knapton, SCIENCE EDITOR 16 November 2022 • 9:00pm