It might not have been a successful mission for Virgin Orbit earlier this month, but it was a privilege to be involved in the UK’s first rocket launch, a major operation and a landmark moment for the country’s defence space strategy.

Along with many other organisations involved, preparing and planning for the launch took months, if not years, yet the actual control of Cosmic Girl was just the same as any other standard track that we work here at 78 Squadron, sticking to known and trusted controlling procedures to ensure the transit was safe and efficient. The only difference was the overall atmosphere and feeling whilst controlling. As it was such a momentous occasion in UK history, there was a sense of excitement and apprehension in the air. Other controllers gathered round to witness the transit from the radar screen. Pride was the overriding feeling, similar to the controlling of the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee flypast, which I was also honoured to be a part of.

Controlling Cosmic Girl

Controlling Cosmic Girl

Cosmic Girl was handed over from Newquay approach at 2145 local time; on passing Flight Level 100 (10,000ft), I climbed Cosmic Girl to its requested level of Flight Level 280 (28,000ft) and gave a direct routing to ensure the pilot and crew could adhere to their strict time demands. I then advised Shannon of the callsign, time, level and entry beacon into Irish airspace before transferring Cosmic Girl over to Irish control to continue the rest of its historic mission.

It was certainly a night to remember, and the air traffic control operation went perfectly to plan, it was just a shame that LauncherOne suffered an anomaly. Despite this, I can’t help but look forward to being involved – hopefully – in future successful rocket launches from Cornwall and other spaceports.


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