New Polish suborbital rocket to be test flown from Andoya spaceport in Norway

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea

A new Polish suborbital rocket, dubbed “ILR-33 Amber 2K,” and being developed by the Łukasiewicz Institute of Aviation, will do its next test flight from the Andoya spaceport in Norway.

After four consecutive test missions completed successfully in Poland, the next stage of preparations of the ILR-33 AMBER 2K to reach the edge of space will take place this year in July. Polish technology will be tested in Norway where one of the key European space centers for launching space vehicles is located.

According to this report, this rocket has a core stage with a hybrid-fueled engine plus two strap-on solid-fueled boosters, a configuration rare for suborbital rockets. After this test flight it will then begin operational suborbital flights, run by a Polish company Thorium from 2025 to 2027.

This deal is another competitive blow to the Saxaford and Sutherland spaceports in the United Kingdom. Both started commercial operations years ahead of either Andoya or Esrange, but because of red tape nothing has been yet allowed to launch from either. This Polish deal one of several for both the Andoya and Esrange spaceports that might have gone to the UK otherwise.

Firefly signs deal to launch its Alpha rocket from Esrange spaceport in Sweden

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea

Firefly has now signed a deal to launch its Alpha rocket in 2026 from the Esrange spaceport in Sweden, becoming that spaceport’s second orbital customer.

Esrange is not really a new spaceport. It was originally built in the 1960s and was used for decades for suborbital test launches, much like Wallops Island in the U.S. In January 2023 it upgraded one launchpad to allow commercial orbital launches, and in May 2024, signed a launch deal with a new rocket startup from South Korea named Perigee.

This new contract with Firefly is a bigger deal, because Firefly has already launched several times, and is more established.

These developments indicate as well the cost of red tape in the United Kingdom. The map to the right shows the spaceports competing for business in Europe. The two UK spaceports (Saxaford and Sutherland) began construction years before Esrange decided to upgrade, but both are now losing business to Sweden because regulatory delays at the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK has delayed all launches there for years.

German rocket startup looking for alternatives to Saxaford spaceport

Australian commercial spaceports
Australia’s commercial spaceports. Click for original map.

Because of regulatory delays at the Saxaford spaceport in Great Britain, the German rocket startup Hyimpulse has signed a launch deal with the Australian commercial spaceport Southern Launch.

In May, HyImpulse launched the inaugural flight of its suborbital SR75 rocket from the Southern Launch Koonibba Test Range. The flight had initially been expected to be launched from SaxaVord in Scotland, but delays in the construction of the facility forced the company to look elsewhere for a host.

On 6 June, Southern Launch announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with HyImpulse for the launch of additional SR75 missions from Koonibba. The agreement also included provisions for the pair to explore the possibility of launching orbital flights aboard the HyImpulse SL1 rocket from Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex on the south coast of Australia.

According to Hyimpulse’s November 2023 deal with Saxaford, it was to have flown two suborbital flights of the SR75 in 2024 and one orbital flight of SL1 in 2025.

It could very well be that SL1’s first orbital test launch will still take place from Saxavord, but the several years of delays caused by the red tape from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority in approving Saxavord has forced its customers to seek alternatives. Hyimpulse for example now has agreements not only with Southern Launch in Australia. The French space agency CNES has approved it to launch from French Guiana as well.

In addition, the German rocket startup Isar Aerospace in November 2023 signed a deal with the new Andoya commercial spaceport in Norway. Andoya had come into this spaceport competition very late, but it apparently won this deal because Isar saw the regulatory problems in the UK and decided to look elsewhere.

Rocket startup Orbex raises another $16.7 million in private investment capital

The British rocket startup Orbex has raised another $16.7 million in private investment capital, bringing the total it has raised now to over $100 million.

It remains unclear when the company’s Prime rocket will complete its first launch. It now says it will have its rocket and launch facility at the Sutherland spaceport ready by the end of this year, but it had previously hoped to launch the rocket in 2023. It appears that goal failed because the spaceport could not get either the spaceport license or its own launch license approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Those licenses have still not been issued, even though the applications had been submitted in Feburary 2022, more than two years ago.

Those delays by the CAA probably explains why the company has had four different CEO’s in the past year. Though the fault of the delays lies with the government, others have had to take the blame. Meanwhile, company officials now state that it is now exploring using other launch sites, including its own near the equator.

UK Space Agency proudly grows

The United Kingdom Space Agency today announced that it is opening four new offices in four different cities, giving it a brand new headquarters as well as a total of five regional offices.

The new HQ at Harwell is due to open in June, while offices at William Morgan House in Cardiff and Space Park Leicester will open in April, with the office at Queen Elizabeth House, in Edinburgh, opening later in the summer.

In addition, the agency will retain its offices in London and Swindon.

Will this expansion alleviate the serious red-tape issues in the United Kingdom that killed Virgin Orbit and have delayed launches at its two new spaceports in Scotland? I have my doubts. The licensing problems in the UK have centered on the number of different agencies and offices that must issue approvals to private space companies. While it might make sense for the UK Space Agency to hire more people, if anything it should be streamlining its operations to one central place.

It appears instead that this bureaucracy is doing what all government bureaucracies do, expanding and growing at the cost of private enterprise. I don’t see how opening many different small offices can possibly help make the licensing procedure faster or easier.

UK government to invest £10 million in Saxavord spaceport

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea.

The government of the United Kingdom announced yesterday that it will directly invest £10 million in the Saxavord spaceport being built on one of the Shetland Islands, as shown on the map to the right.

Coming in addition to around £40 million of private investment, the government funding will allow SaxaVord to accelerate its capital works programme to ensure it is ready to support the first orbital launch.

That capital works program was forced to shut down last year when red tape at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) delayed the licensing of Saxavord. It could be this grant has been issued partly to repay the losses the spaceport company experienced due to those bureaucratic delays. The timing kind of reinforces this speculation, as only yesterday Saxavord got its spaceport license approved, though other approvals remain pending.

All this news suggests strongly that the first test flight at Saxavord by the German rocket startup Rocket Factory Augsburg will occur later this year, as promised.

Meanwhile, the other spaceport in Sutherland must be wondering if it can get similar government aid, or if the government is now playing favorites.

Is the Saxavord spaceport in the UK about to finally get approved for launches?

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea.

According to the head of the Saxavord spaceport in the UK, it is finally poised to get all the necessary approvals from the government of the United Kingdom that will allow the first launches before the end of this year.

Following on from the CAA licence being granted just before Christmas, management at SaxaVord Spaceport is confident it will receive its ‘range licence’ later this month to finally become a “fully-fledged spaceport”. This second licence, also issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), allows rockets launched from SaxaVord to use the airspace.

Sounds great, eh? Except that the spaceport is still waiting approval from a local commission of its plan for allowing spectators to watch launches. In addition, no launch license has yet been issued to any rocket company. The German company Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) is planning to take over one specific launchpad at Saxavord where it hopes to do as many as ten launches per year, with the first test launch later this year. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has not yet issued that license.

Another rocket startup, ABL, is also waiting CAA approvals. Its first test launch (which failed in January 2023) was conducted in Alaska, with a second launch planned there in the next month or so. If successful the company hopes to launch regularly from Saxavord, assuming the CAA gives it approval.

Saxavord submitted its license applications to the CAA in November 2022, with the hope launches could begin in 2023. It took the CAA however more than a year to issue the spaceport license, and it still has not issued the range license, nor has it issued RFA any launch licenses yet. For these companies to prosper the government approval process has got to be streamlined.

UK finally gives Saxavord spaceport a license

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the United Kingdom finally issued a spaceport license today to the Saxavord spaceport on the Shetland Islands, thirteen months after the application was submitted.

This license however does not mean that launches will take place anytime soon. First, Saxavord will have to resume construction of its facilities, which ceased earlier this year because of the CAA hadn’t issued the permit. Moreover, this license does not allow launches. As noted by the CAA:

Spaceport licences allow a person or organisation to operate a spaceport, they are granted in the UK under the Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA). For a launch to happen an operator will need to have developed and proven their technology, be operationally ready, and have a launch licence from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted language is especially crushing, because it literally forbids the launch of any new untested rocket. Since every single rocket so far being developed for these two spaceports is new and untested, none will be allowed to launch unless they move operations elsewhere. This requirement explains for example why the startup ABL shifted its next launch from the Sutherland spaceport — it had hoped to launch this year — to Kodiak, Alaska. Orbex will have even more problems, as it has signed a fifty year lease to launch its new Prime rocket from Sutherland, with its rocket factory close by. If it can’t test fly Prime from Sutherland the company will be very badly hampered.

Even if these companies eventually get launch licenses for their untried rockets, expect such approvals to take a very long time, based on the CAA’s past and present history. It took the CAA almost a year to approve Virgin Orbit’s launch license, essentially bankrupting the company.

Nor are my conclusions here — which I have been stating now for more than a year — simply opinions. They have now been confirmed by a new report issued only a few days ago by the UK Space Agency, which admitted the following:
» Read more

Sutherland spaceport reconfigures design in effort to satisfy environmental concerns

Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea
Proposed spaceports surrounding Norwegian Sea.

The Sutherland spaceport being built in the north of Scotland has announced plans to shrink its size in order to satisfy environmental concerns, likely raised by the many bureaucrats in the United Kingdom that have to approve its spaceport license.

Orbex is now consulting with the local community on proposed changes, including a smaller launch pad, to better protect the surrounding environment. There will also be smaller access roads, and the size of the integration facility, where rockets are assembled before launch, is to be reduced.

The company said: “These changes will make the building footprint smaller, leading to a reduction in peat disturbance and a lower impact on the groundwater ecosystem. The visual impact of the site will also be reduced, and there will be less disturbance to local watercourse crossings, with mammal migration paths widened to better preserve the natural environment.

Orbex has signed a 50-year lease to use this spaceport, and has been building its Prime rocket in a facility nearby. It had hoped to complete a first launch in 2023, but that is clearly not going to happen. It had applied for a launch license in February 2022, but apparently the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the United Kingdom has still not issued it, almost two years later.

Much of the environmental opposition to the Sutherland spaceport was initially instigated by a billionaire who had invested in the competing Saxavord spaceport on the Shetland Islands. Though his lawsuit was dismissed in August 2021, this does not mean that the opposition by him and others has ceased.

Overall, it appears that like at Saxavord in Shetland, work at Sutherland has significantly slowed in recent months. It appears both are being blocked for regulatory reasons, delays that once again provide an opportunity for the spaceports being developed in Norway and Sweden.

German rocket startup signs deal with Norwegian spaceport

Map of northern European spaceports

The German rocket startup Isar Aerospace has signed a deal to provide the Andoya spaceport in the north of Norway with a new flight tracking and safety system, to be used by all launches including Isar’s own Spectrum rocket.

The purpose of the autonomous flight tracking system is to precisely and reliably keeping track of the Spectrum launch vehicle’s position, speed and direction of travel as it ascends to orbit, which is important to guarantee Andøya Spaceport’s flight safety requirements. The objective is to further evaluate the use of the system in enabling automated flight termination functionality for launches by Andøya Spaceport’s ground system, autonomously triggering an abort of the mission if ever operational parameters of the launch vehicle are out of bounds.

This announcement today illustrates the rising competition between German rocket startups and European spaceports. Yesterday the Saxavord spaceport in Scotland and another German rocket startup, HyImpulse, announced their own launch deal. Today’s announcement is the response from Andoya and Isar.

Today’s announcement also increases the pressure in the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to get its regulatory act together. Andoya is positioning itself as a good alternative to the two new British spaceports in Scotland, as shown by the red dots on the map above, should red tape in the UK slow launches there.

Saxavord spaceport gets launch deal from German rocket startup

The Saxavord spaceport, one of two being built in Scotland, has signed a launch deal from the German rocket startup Hy-Impulse, with two suborbital test launches scheduled for next year and an orbital launch targeting 2025.

HyImpulse, a launch services provider and DLR spinoff based in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, is currently gearing up for its inaugural suborbital launch early next year from Australia. It will however look to conduct two suborbital launches from SaxaVord Spaceport, located in Scotland’s Shetland Islands, from August 2024 onwards. HyImpulse has already secured an Air Navigation Order (ANO) license from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority for one launch.

These will be followed by first orbital launches from late 2025 onwards. The plan envisions rising to full commercial operations by 2030.

All this assumes that the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) can issue the launch licenses in time. After all it only six to ten months to approve those suborbital launches, and almost two years to approve the orbital launch. So far the CAA has proven unable to approve anything within even those long time frames.

Axiom signs deal with the United Kingdom to fly all British mission

The space agency of the United Kingdom today announced that it has signed a deal with Axiom to fly an manned mission in space, with four astronauts spending up to two weeks in space (likely in a SpaceX Dragon capsule).

The flight, estimated to cost around £200 million, is being organized in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), though all the astronauts will be British. The announced commander, Tim Peake, spent six months on ISS in 2015, and has come out of retirement to do the flight.

It is also unclear at this moment whether it will fly to ISS, or simply remain in orbit. In fact, few specific details have yet been released.

The bottom line however is that the new American space industry is going to make money from Britain’s desire to be a space power. Seems like a good deal to me.

Regulatory problems for Saxavord spaceport in Shetland?

In a short statement reported in the local Shetland press, the under-construction Saxavord spaceport in Scotland has apparently laid off some construction workers, claiming it has done so “because the project was so far ahead of schedule.”

The statement however also alluded to the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which must issue a launch license before any launches can occur.

SaxaVord Spaceport said: “SaxaVord continues to have excellent dialogue with the authorities and is fully expecting to receiving its spaceport licence very soon from the Civil Aviation Authority. We are looking forward to hosting vertical rocket launches in the coming months.”

The application for this launch license was submitted in November 2022. It appears that the CAA still needs a year or more to approve any launch license, a slow and endless process that if not corrected will make launches from the United Kingdom completely unprofitable.

Saxavord had hoped to get its first launch off this year, by fall. It now appears that will not happen.

Rocket Factory Augsburg raises $33 million in private investment capital

The German startup Rocket Factory Augsburg revealed today that it has raised $32.9 million in private investment capital at the same time it has shifted the launch date for the first rocket launch of its RFA-1 rocket from this year into next.

That launch was scheduled to occur at the Shetland spaceport, Saxavord, and as recently as April 2023 officials there were saying that this launch would occur this year. In June however Rocket Factory signed a deal with France’s space agency to use its long abandoned launchpad in French Guiana. That same month I predicted the launch at Saxavord would not happen this year, possibly because of regulatory hurdles in the United Kingdom.

It appears those hurdles might have been part of the reason for Rocket Factory’s deal with France. It needs a place to launch, and it appears the UK’s government is not presently conducive to allowing such things to happen easily.

Proposed exclusion zone restrictions revealed for new Sutherland spaceport in Scotland

A map of the proposed 50-square-kilometer exclusion zone that will be required for launches at the new Sutherland spaceport in Scotland has now been obtained by the Northern Times, which appears to be a local newspaper.

The zone would cover much of Melness Crofters’ Estate, and ironically it would also include a significant part of the neighbouring Eriboll Estate, owned by Danish entrepreneur Anders Holch Polvsen, who launched a failed legal challenge against the spaceport. Highland Council is in the process of finalising the details of the proposed restrictions which will then be put out for a 12-week public consultation and go before Highland councillors for final approval.

Ramblers Scotland, which promotes access to the outdoors, has said it will “carefully study” the final proposals.

Only during the launches does it appear the zone would be this large. Between launches the zone would be limited to a radius of 1.8 kilometers around the launchpads.

With twelve launches planned per year, this zone could seriously impact local activities, though how much is not clear. Not many people live in the area, and the land inside the zone is mostly used as grazing land or for recreational activities, many apparently organized by Ramblers Scotland. We should therefore expect some opposition to this plan when this zone is discussed during that 12-week public consultation time period.

Viking cemetery found at new Saxavord spaceport in Scotland

Archeologists have discovered a Viking “ritual cremation cemetery” about 4,000 years old near the launch site at the new Saxavord spaceport in Scotland.

The burnt bones were found inside an arc of large granite boulders set into pits in the ground. A small platform of white quartz pebbles was also discovered which may have once been linked to a burial. Quartz is often associated with burial tombs in the prehistoric, and covered the entire outside wall of Newgrange in Ireland.

Test launches at Saxavord are expected to begin in the fall, with the first orbital launch next year. This schedule of course assumes launch licenses can be obtained from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.

UK government reluctantly admits its space regulatory framework is a problem

According to a report issued by a committee formed by a number of members of the United Kingdom’s parliament, the regulatory licensing framework for its space launch industry is a problem that needs fixing, and in a hurry.

The report also expressed concern about the licensing delays that led to the Virgin Orbit launch being postponed. Virgin Orbit and some of its satellite customers were critical of the UK regulatory process, which was led by the Civil Aviation Authority.

But the committee concluded there was no evidence that the regulatory system contributed to the failure of the Virgin Orbit. The report did state, however, that there is “insufficient co-ordination between the large number of regulatory bodies involved in licensing launches, and this continues to place unnecessary burdens of complexity and administration on companies”.

The MPs [members of parliament] are calling on the Government to take steps to improve the licensing system of UK satellite launch.

It is amusing how these politicians speak from both sides of their mouths. First they say the regulatory system did not contribute to Virgin Orbit’s failure, but then admit the regulatory system is so complex and messy that anyone can see that it certainly did contribute to that failure. It took that system fifteen months to approve the launch, even though Virgin Orbit expected that approval to come in half that time.

Whether this MP report will force action remains unclear. As I noted earlier this week, Orbex applied for a launch license seventeen months ago for a launch it hopes to complete at the Sutherland Spaceport before the end of this year, and it is as yet unclear if any license has been issued. The UK’s two spaceports cannot compete if it is going to take one to two years for each launch license to be approved

King Charles III proposes his own vision for space, focused not on private enterprise but on achieving a globalist utopia

We’re here to help you! King Charles III yesterday announced a major space policy concept which he dubbed Astra Carta, aimed at making the leftist utopian vision the prime guidance for any future exploration or settlement of the solar system.

The statement from the Palace says the “Astra Carta aims to convene the private sector in creating and accelerating sustainable practices across the global space industry. It also recognises the unique role that space can play in creating a more sustainable future on Earth and the need for the space industry to consider environmental and sustainability impacts beyond our planet. Its ambition encourages a focus on placing sustainability at the core of space activity.”

You can read a detailed summary of Astra Carta’s goals here [pdf]. Its aims however make clear Charles’ globalist and Marxist goals, as previously outlined by his 2021 Terra Carta proposal for Earth:
» Read more

UK regulators give okay on Viasat’s purchase of Inmarsat

After months of delay, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regulators has finally admitted that Viasat’s purchase of Inmarsat would not reduce competition in the communication satellite industry, and has approved the purchase unconditionally.

The evidence analysed by the panel shows that, while Viasat and Inmarsat compete closely– specifically in the supply of satellite connectivity for wifi on flights – the deal does not substantially reduce competition for services provided on flights used by UK customers.

The evidence also shows that the satellite sector is expanding rapidly – a trend that is set to continue for the foreseeable future. This is due to increased demand for satellite connectivity, driven largely by the ever-growing use of the internet by business and consumers.

The CMA press release is a classic of bureaucracy blather. Essentially, it tries to make it sound like this agency did lots of difficult hard work to discover what is patently obvious, that without this merger these two companies will almost certainly not be able to compete with the emerging new satellite communications companies coming on line.

The best thing that the UK could do to encourage competition and new industries in the UK would be to defund this agency, now. Its existence accomplishes nothing other than to stand in the way.

Shetland Spaceport now faces same regulatory hurdles that destroyed Virgin Orbit

The new Shetland spaceport, Saxavord, is right now attempting to get launch approvals from United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the same agency that dithered for six months approving a Virgin Orbit launch, thus causing the bankruptcy of that company.

According to Saxavord’s CEO, the spaceport has two launches aiming to launch before the end of this year, assuming the CAA can get its act together and give its approval. This quote however is worrisom:

The Saxavord spaceport says it is “still on track” to receive its necessary licences from the sector’s regulator before the summer. This relates to applications to the Civil Aviation Authority for range and spaceport licences.

Meanwhile SaxaVord CEO Frank Strang said the company is also on track for two rocket launches this year – “albeit they have moved slightly to the right”. [emphasis mine]

The delays could be coming from the rocket companies themselves. One of those companies is the German startup, Rocket Factory Augsburg, which has leased exclusive use of one launchsite. The other is the American startup ABL, which has had one launch attempt from the U.S. that failed.

Based on the CAA’s track record however the delays are just as likely coming from it. The CAA began this licensing process in November 2022, and is not done yet six months later.

Virgin Orbit shuts down

Unable to secure new funding, the managers of Virgin Orbit have shuttered the company, possibly forever.

Virgin Orbit is ceasing operations “for the foreseeable future” after failing to secure a funding lifeline, CEO Dan Hart told employees during an all-hands meeting Thursday afternoon. The company will lay off nearly all of its workforce. “Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company,” Hart said, according to audio of the 5 p.m. ET meeting obtained by CNBC.

The layoffs include all but 100 positions, about 85% of its workforce.

The company was killed because the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) took an extra six months approving a launch license, during which the company could launch nothing and thus make no money. Lacking revenue, it ran out of cash. If the company goes into bankruptcy, this detail is most intriguing:

Branson has first priority over Virgin Orbit’s assets, as the company raised $60 million in debt from the investment arm of Virgin Group.

In other words, Branson will be able to walk off with everything, and even resurrect the company as his own, for pennies on the dollar. If he does, I guarantee our bankrupt mainstream press will shower him with praise, calling him a hero.

Virgin Orbit resumes limited operations

In anticipation of a possibly deal to save the company, Virgin Orbit officials have resumed limited operations, bringing back a small number of employees to work on crucial issues required for its next launch.

“Our first step will begin Thursday of this week, when we plan to return a subset of our team to focus on critical areas for our next mission,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement. “We are looking forward to getting back to our mission and returning to orbit.”

…Reuters reported that Virgin Orbit is working on a $200 million infusion from Texas-based venture capital investor Matthew Brown via a private share placement, citing a term sheet. Following a meeting by Virgin Orbit’s board on Tuesday, the two sides plan to close the deal on Friday, according to the non-binding term sheet, Reuters said.

Should the company resume full operations and launch again, I am certain it will not launch from the United Kingdom, at least not until the UK has fixed its launch licensing bureau, the Civil Aviation Authority, which took so long to approve Virgin Orbit’s launch from Cornwall it practically bankrupted the company.

Virgin Orbit pauses operations; seeks funding

Virgin Orbit today paused all operations for at least a week, putting almost its entire staff on furlough as it seeks new financing.

Chief Executive Dan Hart told staff that the furlough would buy Virgin Orbit time to finalise a new investment plan, a source who attended the event told Reuters news agency. It was not clear how long the furlough would last, but Mr Hart said employees would be given more information by the middle of next week.

If Virgin Orbit dies, its death will be because a British government agency killed it. The company had planned on launching from Cornwall in the early fall of 2022, at the latest, and then do several other launches in 2022, all of which would have earned it revenue. Instead, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) delayed issuing the launch license until January 2023, about a half a year later, preventing Virgin Orbit from launching for that time and literally cutting it off from any ability to make money. The result was that it ran out of funds.

Obviously the launch failure that followed the CAA’s approval did not help. Nor did the company’s decision to rely on only one 747 to launch its satellites. Nonetheless, the fault of this company’s death can mostly be attributed to a government bureaucracy that failed in its job so badly that it destroyed a private company.

UK awards $1.9 million in development grants to universities and private companies

The space agency of the United Kingdom today announced the award of nearly $1.9 million in grants to six universities and two private companies to do a variety of space engineering research.

The stated goal of the grants is to encourage the growth of a private space sector in the UK, as stated by one official in the press release:

Today’s funding is part of the government’s strategy to use our £5 billion investment in space science and technology to grow our £16.5 billion commercial space sector to create the businesses, jobs and opportunities of tomorrow, and the space clusters from Cornwall to Scotland.

The university research from these grants will thus hopefully produce viable products that the researchers can then use to establish private space companies.

UK’s bureaucracy blasted for delaying Virgin Orbit launch

At parliamentary hearings yesterday, the United Kingdom’s Cival Aviation Authority (CAA) was heavily criticized by commercial satellite companies for delaying the launch Cornwall launch by Virgin Orbit by six months.

The harshest words came from a manager at Space Forge, that lost a satellite on that launch when Virgin Orbit’s rocket failed to reach orbit.

Patrick McCall, non-executive director at Space Forge, told MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee, that if the company sought to launch again in the UK it would be given “short shrift” by investors. “I think unless there is a seismic change in that approach the UK is not going to be competitive from a launch perspective,” he said. “There is no chance that Josh Western [the Space Forge CEO] would win the argument to do the next launch in the UK. Even if the UK came and said you can do it for free, I would say don’t do that.

“I don’t think it’s deliberate, I think people at the CAA want to make it happen, but it’s not working, and either we change that with a seismic shift or we save the money and spend it on other things which are achievable.”

The delay also caused Virgin Orbit serious financial problems, as it prevented it from doing any other launches in 2022, resulting in a significant loss of income.

The committee chair, MP Greg Clark, underlined the testimony afterward:

“It’s a disaster isn’t it?” he said: “We attempted to show what we are capable of, and the result is it’s now toxic for a privately funded launch. We had the first attempted launch but the result is that you as an investor in space are saying there is no chance of investors supporting another launch from the UK with the current regulator conditions.”

During the hearings CAA officials justified their actions, and appeared unwilling to consider any changes.

There are two spaceports now being built in Scotland. If the CAA is not forced to change, it is very likely that commercial satellite companies will find other places in Europe to launch, such as the new Esrange spaceport being developed in Sweden.

UK bureaucracy provisionally clears Viasat-Inmarsat merger

We’re here to help you! The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has now provisionally approved the merger deal between the two communications satellite companies Viasat and Inmarsat by admitting the obvious, that the deal will do nothing to reduce competition in the presently thriving communications satellite industry.

Over the past 4 months, an independent CMA panel has gathered and scrutinised a wide range of evidence in order to better understand the sector, as well as the potential impact of the deal. This included internal documents from Viasat and Inmarsat, as well as the companies’ competitors (including their plans for future expansion); evidence from airlines; the CMA’s own analysis of sector conditions – and how these could change.

…The CMA’s investigation into the Viasat/Inmarsat deal has provisionally found that, while the companies compete closely in the aviation sector – specifically in the supply of satellite connections for onboard wifi – the deal does not substantially reduce competition for services provided on flights used by UK customers.

Duh. In other words, these bureaucrats spent four months determining what is self-evident to every person who pays any attention to the business of space. Furthermore, both companies are badly threatened by the new players in this industry, like OneWeb and Starlink. This dithering by bureaucrats threatens their survival, as these older companies want to merge to give them the resources to better compete. Being forced to sit and wait only increases the chances that both will go bankrupt, thus reducing competition, the very thing this government agency is supposed to encourage and protect.

Not that the CMA has come to any real decision yet. As its press release notes so nobly, “Today’s findings are provisional, and the CMA will now consult on its findings and listen to any further views before reaching a final decision.”

Virgin Orbit launch a failure today from Cornwall, Great Britain

Five minutes after I posted the information below, Virgin Orbit’s announcer came on to announce that LauncherOne had suffered “an anomaly” and would not successfully place the satellites in orbit.

The failure must have occurred during a later stage after the rocket was released and was preparing for the second engine burn of its upper stage. They have ended the live stream without providing a further update, which is not surprising considering the data that needs to be analyzed.

Original post:
Virgin Orbit today successfully completed the first orbital launch ever the United Kingdom, taking off from a runway in Cornwall, Great Britain, and then releasing its LaunchOne rocket from the bottom of a 747.

All in all 9 satellites were launched. This was Virgin Orbit’s fifth successful commercial launch, and hopefully will open a 2023 whereby the company will makeup for six months of bureaucratic red tape that essentially blocked about six launches last year. As of this writing the satellites have not yet deployed.

The 2023 launch race:

2 China
1 SpaceX

Two SpaceX launches coming later this evening.

Virgin Orbit’s launch from Cornwall finally scheduled for January 9th

The first orbital launch from the United Kingdom has finally been scheduled, with Virgin Orbit’s 747 taking off from an airport in Cornwall on January 9, 2023 and carrying its LauncherOne rocket with 9 satellites.

Monday’s mission opportunity has been purchased by the US National Reconnaissance Office and is being used to advance a number of satellite technologies of security and defence interest to both the American and British governments. But there are also civil applications being taken up on the flight – and a number of firsts, such as the first satellite built in Wales and the first satellite for the Sultanate of Oman.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority [CAA], which regulates commercial spaceflight in the UK, said on Thursday that all nine spacecraft on the manifest had now been licensed. Virgin and Spaceport Cornwall received their launch licences before Christmas.

The launch was originally planned for sometime in the summer, but delays in obtaining the launch permits from the CAA pushed it back a half year. That unexpected and unnecessary delay now threatens the very existence of Virgin Orbit, as the company could do no other launches as it waited and thus earned nothing.

Virgin Orbit completes $37 million stock sale

It appears that Virgin Orbit has just completed a $37 million sale of new common stock, valued at $0.0001 per share, and equal to about 10% of the company.

Hat tip to stringer Jay, who writes, “To me, it is like V.O. is printing money. They have already lost most of the value of the original stock, they are losing about $20 million a quarter, and they just raised $37M.”

Virgin Orbit had planned in 2022 about eight launches. It completed two, and then got blocked by the UK bureaucracy, completing no more launches for the rest of year while it waited months for permits to launch from Cornwall. During that time it could not launch its other customers because it only had one 747 in its fleet to launch its rocket.

No launches means no income. To keep the company afloat Branson has had his larger company Virgin Group transfer first $25 million and then another $20 million to Virgin Orbit. This stock sale appears to be another effort to keep Virgin Orbit above water.

The endless and unexpected delays getting permits to launch from Cornwall now suggests that some people in the UK government might not like Branson, and took this opportunity to sabotage him. Pure speculation I know, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

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