Virgin Orbit is retargeting a launch that was supposed to take place as soon as next week from Cornwall, England -- and that was to be the first spaceflight to depart from British soil -- due to additional technical to-dos and remaining regulatory hurdles.
In a statement, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company would retarget launch for “the coming weeks.” In addition to remaining technical work and outstanding launch licenses, Hart said the limited two-day launch window also moved Virgin to delay the mission. He did not elaborate on what technical work is needed for flight readiness.
Just a few hours after the announcement broke, the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the regulatory body that licenses launch, released its own statement to rebuke Virgin’s claim that remaining regulatory issues were in part the reason for the mission delay.
“The UK space regulation process is not a barrier to a UK space launch,” Tim Johnson, CAA’s director for space regulation, said. “Virgin Orbit has said in its statement this morning that there are some technical issues that will need to be resolved before launch. These in no way relate to the timing of when a licence will be issued by the Civil Aviation Authority.”
The two-day launch window was to open December 14. LauncherOne, Virgin’s launch system, is composed of a Boeing 747 and a rocket. The aircraft carries the rocket to high altitude before releasing it on its journey to space, so while this isn’t due to be the first vertical launch from U.K. soil, it will be the first spaceflight mission.
The news came as something of a surprise; as late as Tuesday, Virgin representatives were telling the news media that the mission would be a “go” upon regulatory approval.