(CNN) — In the far south west of England, dangling in the Atlantic Ocean, the remote region of Cornwall rarely feels like the center of the world.
But lately locals have felt seductively close when they have seen a very special plane fly low overhead, take off from the runway at tiny Newquay Airport – the 29th largest airport in the UK – and circle above the coast before the sky gets back down.
This is not just any plane. It is also not a normal Boeing 747, as it appears from the ground. In fact, it’s the “Queen of the Skies” who has been repurposed for the space race, making 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 2.7-mile regular runway.
Marc Andrew, from nearby Newquay, traveled to the spaceport after work this week to watch the plane land.
“It was great to watch and it 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 is called, is the ship for Virgin Orbit’s attempt to launch seven satellites into space.
A former passenger jumbo jet in service with Virgin Atlantic until 2015 has been modified to carry LauncherOne, a California-made rocket that will go into Earth orbit.
Cosmic Girl, a former Virgin Atlantic 747, launches from Newquay, UK
Next month, Cosmic Girl will take off from Newquay’s cliff-top runway with LauncherOne under its wings — and once the 747 reaches 34,000 feet, it’ll unleash the rocket.
Inside are seven payloads, or satellites, that will orbit the planet in low Earth orbit.
A test flight for the locals
Using a 747 for a horizontal launch allows for a “wider range of orbits than would be possible with a traditional ground-launched system,” Virgin Orbit wrote in a statement.
The event will be the first launch in space for the UK and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, according to the company. According to Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the British space agency, it will also be Europe’s first satellite launch.
LauncherOne completed its first full launch rehearsal in Long Beach, California, on October 2, before flying to the UK last Friday to meet Cosmic Girl, who arrived in Cornwall on October 11.
Cosmic Girl completed a nearly three-hour test flight around Cornwall and South West England on October 14, with Cornish locals noticing it flying low over their gardens.
Rocket LauncherOne has now joined Cosmic Girl at Newquay Spaceport.
Virgin Orbit chief pilot Matthew Stannard, who will fly the 747 for launch, said: “It feels great to bring Cosmic Girl to the UK. We are now weeks away from the UK’s first launch at Spaceport Cornwall, so it’s all very real.”
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “When we see the infrastructure in place, our launch ambitions become reality.”
Hoping to see more Cosmic Girls? Virgin Orbit plans to bring horizontal launches to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea.