(CNN) — At the extreme south-western tip of England, jutting into the Atlantic, the remote region of Cornwall rarely feels like the center of the world.
But recently, locals were feeling tantalizingly close as they watched a very special plane fly low overhead, descending from the runway at Newquay’s tiny airport – 29.
This isn’t just any plane. It’s also not a regular Boeing 747 as it looks from the ground. In fact, it’s the ‘Queen of the Skies’, repurposed for the Space Race and undergoing test flights before taking part in the UK’s first orbital space launch next month. And it will take off from Spaceport Cornwall, which shares the airport’s 1.7-mile regular runway.
Marc Andrew, from nearby Newquay, traveled to the spaceport after work this week to watch the plane land.
“It was amazing to see and will be a nice piece of history to tell my little boy when he’s older,” he told CNN. He is now preparing to return for the November launch.
Cosmic Girl, as the plane was called, is the ship for Virgin Orbit’s bid to launch seven satellites.
A former jumbo passenger jet in service with Virgin Atlantic until 2015 has been converted to carry LauncherOne, a California-made rocket that will fly into Earth orbit.
Cosmic Girl, a former Virgin Atlantic 747, will depart from Newquay, UK
Next month, Cosmic Girl will be taking off from the airstrip atop Newquay’s cliffs with LauncherOne under her wing – and once the 747 reaches 34,000 feet, she will release the rocket.
Inside are seven payloads, or satellites, that will begin orbiting the planet in low Earth orbit.
A test flight for locals
Using a 747 for a horizontal launch allows for “a wider range of orbits than would be possible with a traditional ground-based system,” Virgin Orbit wrote in a statement.
The event will be the first orbital space launch for the UK and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, according to the company. It will also be Europe’s first satellite launch, according to Ian Annett, Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency.
LauncherOne completed its first full launch rehearsal in Long Beach, California on October 2nd before being flown to the UK last Friday to meet Cosmic Girl, who arrived in Cornwall on October 11th.
Cosmic Girl completed a nearly three-hour test flight around Cornwall and South West England on October 14, with Cornish locals noting it flew low over their gardens.
Rocket LauncherOne has now joined Cosmic Girl at the Newquay Spaceport.
Virgin Orbit chief pilot Matthew Stannard, who will fly the 747 for the launch, said: “It feels great to bring Cosmic Girl home to the UK. “
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “When we see the infrastructure in place, our launch ambitions become a reality.”
Are you hoping to see more Cosmic Girls? Virgin Orbit plans to bring horizontal launches to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea.