Cornwall, at the far southwestern tip of England, dangling into the Atlantic, rarely feels like the center of the world.
Locals have recently felt tantalizingly close as they’ve watched a very special plane fly low overhead, taking off from the runway at tiny Newquay Airport (the UK’s 29th largest airport) and orbiting the skies above the coast before touching down.
This isn’t any ordinary plane. It’s also not a regular Boeing 747, as it appears from the ground. It is, in fact, the “Queen of the Skies” repurposed for the space race, conducting test flights before taking part in the United Kingdom’s first orbital space launch next month.
And it’ll take off from Spaceport Cornwall, which shares the airport’s regular 1.7-mile runway. Marc Andrew, from nearby Newquay, went to the spaceport after work this week to see the plane land.
“It was amazing to watch, and will be a nice bit of history to tell my little boy when he’s older,” he told CNN. He is now preparing to return for the November launch.
The plane, dubbed Cosmic Girl, will carry Virgin Orbit’s bid to launch seven satellites into space.
It is a former Virgin Atlantic passenger jumbo jet that has been modified to carry Launcher One, a California-made rocket that will enter Earth’s orbit.
Cosmic Girl will take off from Newquay’s clifftop runway next month with LauncherOne under its wing, and once the 747 reaches 34,000 feet, it will release the rocket.
Seven payloads, or satellites, will be housed inside and will begin circling the planet in low Earth orbit.
During a test last year, the rocket, which was launched from beneath the 747’s left wing, reached speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour as it zoomed into space.
To read our blog on “NASA set a test of Boeing’s autonomous Starliner space capsule,” click here