The U.S. National Intelligence Agency (NRO) will launch a joint mission with the UK Department of Defense on the first-ever launch of Virgin Orbit from the UK.
Cooperation will lead to joint work of state military organizations on two “Prometheus-2” cubesatswhich will be launched among nine international routes from the Cornwall spaceport (on the coast of south-west England) already in the summer.
Prometheus 2, UK Government stated on Tuesday (May 10) “provide a test platform for monitoring radio signals, including GPS and sophisticated images, paving the way for a more collaborative and connected space communications system with our allies”. (International cooperation includes the NRO, the agency that manages the United States Navy spy satellites.)
In the photos: LauncherOne Virgin Orbit rocket for satellite missions
This is the first horizontal launch for the NRO, the agency said own statement Tuesday. “Launching from the UK means further expanding NRO launch venues abroad, in addition to New Zealand, giving NROs the opportunity to launch from three continents,” the NRO said in a statement.
Virgin Orbit is a subsidiary of a space tourism provider Virgin Galactic; both companies belong to Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson. Virgin Orbit has held three consecutive successful launches in 2021 and 2022 after Fr. failure during his initial efforts in May 2020.
Aside from the benefits for UK companies looking for a more local option to launch in Cornwall, Virgin Orbit says the 70-foot (21-meter) LauncherOne is more responsive and flexible than traditional vertically-launched missiles. LauncherOne can launch up to 1,100 pounds (500 pounds) per mission, which is relatively modest compared to many types of missiles.
This was stated by the company plans five launches in 2022, including two from Cornwall Cosmodrome and three from Mahave Air and Space Port in California, the take-off point of all Virgin Orbit missions to date. Virgin Orbit is also looking for other new places to launch, with early opportunities including Guam, Japan and Brazil.