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Virgin Orbit plans rocket launches from UK airport

The Virgin Galactic spinoff hopes to launch by 2021.

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Virgin Orbit is jetting back to the UK.

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit said Monday that it plans to conduct the first-ever flights to space from the UK.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spinoff is partnering with Spaceport Cornwall and the UK Space Agency for orbital rocket launches from Cornwall Airport Newquay in southwest England by 2021.

The Long Beach, California, company doesn't use the traditional vertical launch method. Instead, it drops a launch rocket from the wing of a Boeing 747 jet -- known as Cosmic Girl -- flying at 35,000 feet.

Virgin Orbit focuses on launching small satellites known as cubesats, which are cheaper to build.

Once Virgin Orbit's service starts operating from the Cornwall airport, it'll be the first location where launches to space and commercial flights happen side by side, the company notes. This will be its second launch site. The primary location is Mojave Air & Space Port in California.

Spaceport Cornwall says the project will create nearly 500 new jobs in Cornwall and bring £25 million ($33 million) to the local economy in the next decade.

"Cornwall can deliver new launch capabilities for the UK quickly and efficiently by upgrading Cornwall Airport Newquay to support our horizontal air-launch platform," Patrick McCall, chairman of Virgin Orbit's board of directors, said in a statement.

"The Cornwall partnership allows us to grasp important market share, gain instant global launch market credibility and, with the technology already being tested in the US, further lower our risk."

The company also said it hopes to launch from a variety of other places in the future, with a focus on doing so from locations at varying latitudes.

Branson wants to make Virgin Galactic the first commercial spaceline, with tickets costing $250,000 a passenger. It conducted its second successful test launch in May, four years after a fatal crash caused the company a major setback.

First published July 17, 4:30 a.m. PT. 
Update, 8 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Virgin Orbit and information about other locations.

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