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How to see the UK’s first ever rocket launch in the sky tonight

Virgin’s LauncherOne craft will take off from Cornwall and travel at a whopping 8,000 miles per hour

Written by
Faima Bakar

The UK isn’t known for its astronomical prowess. But that could soon be about to change. Tonight the country’s first ever rocket launch will take place – and you’ll be able to see from all over the UK and beyond.

A former Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 known as Cosmic Girl will set off from Cornwall in the middle of the night, with a rocket known as LauncherOne attached to its left wing. This will then be released 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and travel at 8,000 miles per hour on its mission to deploy satellites into orbit. Here’s everything you need to know about the launch (and how to see it tonight).

What is the LauncherOne rocket and why is it launching from the UK?

The LauncherOne is a rocket attached to an aircraft (formerly a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747), named Cosmic Girl, which will take off tonight. The rocket will be released 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, travelling 8,000 miles per hour on its mission to deploy seven satellites into orbit.

The operation is being run by Virgin Orbit, a subsidiary of the Virgin group founded by British business magnate Richard Branson. The move also forms part of the UK’s National Space Strategy.

What is the aim of the LauncherOne rocket mission?

The launch is part of the government’s National Space Strategy, which aims to explore how space can help us navigate around Earth, as well as monitor the weather and climate change. The satellites that will be launched from the rocket include one which will join a constellation monitoring illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism. 

Where is it launching from?

The rocket will be launching from Spaceport Cornwall, which is part of Newquay Airport.

When does the rocket launch?

The aim is for the jet to take off at 10.16pm tonight (Monday January 9). It will take about an hour for travel to launch zone, before the rocket is released in mid-air.

How can I see the LauncherOne rocket?

Virgin Orbit says people in the UK and Ireland should be able to see LauncherOne within 60 seconds of it being launched from the jet. People in coastal areas of France, Spain and Portugal should also be able to see it within two to three minutes. This interactive map will tell you when it’ll be visible in your area.

Is there a live stream?

The Virgin Orbit YouTube channel has a countdown to the launch and will be showing it live. The website RocketLaunchLive will also be broadcasting the event.

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