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U.K. to Conduct First Orbital Rocket Launch

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On Monday evening, the U.K. will launch into Orbit nine small satellites, the first time in western Europe.

According to details, at around 35,000 feet, the Virgin Orbit rocket will be deployed over the Atlantic, carrying nine small satellites into orbit in what is known as a horizontal launch.

Launching in this way is more cost-efficient than the spectacle of vertical take-offs and shows that the U.K. can be nimbler in its space efforts than the U.S., currently the leader in the global space industry, according to Rafel Siquier, CEO of British space startup Open Cosmos.

“It’s a horizontal launch and that gives them a lot of flexibility to target a specific orbit to launch from locations where it usually wouldn’t be possible to. And that’s what’s enabling actually the U.K. to have this scrappy deployment capability very effectively,” Siquier told CNBC in an interview in November at the Web Summit tech conference.

Open Cosmos’ DOVER Pathfinder satellite will be among the nine satellites on board the LauncherOne rocket. It is designed to demonstrate new navigation capabilities.

Other technologies being sent into space as part of the commercial launch are the first satellite to be launched by Oman, focusing on Earth observation, and the first satellite designed and built in Wales, as well as satellites from various U.K. and U.S. government departments.

Launching rockets from British soil allows the country to “be more responsible with the ways [it’s] putting products into space,” Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, told the BBC’s “Today” show Monday.

Crowds are expected to gather to watch the event, with Spaceport Cornwall having invited the general public to witness what they have described as a “historic moment.” The designated launch event will also include a “silent disco” tent.

Virgin Orbit had lowered its forecast for launches in 2022 to three, having initially expected to make between four and six earlier in the year.

On announcing its third-quarter results for 2022 in November, Virgin Orbit also said it raised $25 million to boost its depleting cash reserve.

The money came from Virgin Group, the wider conglomerate owned by British billionaire Richard Branson which also includes airline Virgin Atlantic, gym group Virgin Active and financial services company Virgin Money

Shares of Virgin Orbit hit a three-week high Friday, trading at $2.11.

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