They’re used to operating in extreme temperatures at their base in the Mojave Desert, but American crew and technicians who are in the UK on a historic space mission face a very different challenge: persistent rain. and the Cornish wind.
Asked about the problems in arranging a space adventure from the far south-west of Britain, launch director Deenah Sanchez immediately pointed to the Cornish climate. “Honestly, getting used to the weather. In Southern California, we have extreme heat. Our systems are designed to absorb heat and humidity. Here it is different.
Sanchez said staff were working hard to get used to the weather and additional checks on equipment needed to be carried out. “Plus, there are a lot of things on wheels that need to be tied down. It was interesting but fun.
In the coming weeks – if all goes according to plan and a suitable weather window clears – a Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl converted to carry a rocket primed to blast satellites into space will take off from the state-of-the-art Spaceport Cornwall facility near of Newquay. The plane will soar to 35,000 feet (10,700 meters) and launch the rocket that will launch nine satellites into orbit, completing the first-ever satellite launch from UK soil.
During a VIP and press day on Tuesday, visitors were allowed to peek into the clean room where the satellites are being prepared and into a hangar where they will be loaded onto the rocket. Outside, Cosmic Girl sat on an apron battered by wind and showers but, at one point, illuminated by a rainbow.
The weather is not the only stumbling block. The mission – dubbed Operation Start Me Up after the Rolling Stones hit – is still waiting for the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to grant the license that will allow it to fly with the rocket and satellites. It had been hoped that the flight would take place in the summer and then in the fall, but it now seems likely that the mission will not continue until December.
When asked if it was really going to happen, Ian Annett, the deputy director general of the British Space Agency, replied: “Of course.” He said the licensing process was “extremely complex” as it was something that was being done for the first time in the UK, but insisted: “We are on track to deliver a launch in 2022, which has always been our goal.
Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, the company leading the mission, said it was to provide a service for customers who want their satellites in orbit, but also to open a “doorway to the ‘space’ in Cornwall. Hart said the company is “looking forward” to the flight taking place as soon as possible. “We’re in a bit of a sticky situation right now, but we’re making progress.”
Hart said the UK space sector has been a vibrant community for decades and a leader in the development of small satellites – the type this mission will send into space. “This is the start of a huge step forward,” he added.
Lucy Edge, COO of Satellite Applications Catapult, which works to grow the UK space ecosystem, said: ‘We’re really good at building small satellites, testing them and we’re pretty good at running them. and work with the data. But we didn’t have the ability to launch them before. This closes the supply chain.
While awaiting clearance, the crew continues to perform tests and train. Dayle Alexander, 29, of Atlanta, Georgia, the flight’s lead launch engineer, also mentioned the weather. “The rain was a challenge. We are not used to working in the rain. Some of our gear wasn’t as waterproof as it should have been.
She also cited a problem that other American visitors may encounter in the UK. “In America, we use a different voltage. It was a more difficult problem than expected.
Meanwhile, crew members have been sightseeing, surfing and tasting pub delights in Newquay, which outnumbers the California desert. “There were a variety of things to do. In Mojave there is nothing to do,” she said.
Alexander looks forward to the flight, even the heartbreaking moment when the rocket launches and the plane swerves away. “At that time, we almost reached weightlessness. We threw water bottles back and forth and they floated. You are weightless for about 30 seconds. It’s funny.”