RAF News

RAF Pilot joins flight crew during Virgin Orbit satellite launch

Virgin Orbit Boeing aircraft flying through clouds.

An RAF Pilot was part of the flight crew during yesterday’s successful launch of several satellites by Virgin Orbit, as part of their Above the Clouds mission, taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The satellites were launched from Virgin Orbit’s airborne launch platform, Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400.  It was flown by Eric Bippert, Virgin Orbit’s Chief Pilot, and Flight Lieutenant Mathew 'Stanny' Stannard, who has been on an industrial placement with Virgin Orbit’s Pilot Corps since 2019.  Flight Lieutenant Stannard is an RAF test Pilot, who recorded over 1,000 flight hours flying the Tornado GR4 and the Typhoon before his placement with Virgin Orbit.

Rocket and Virgin Orbit Boeing aircraft in the sky; sunlight rays blur the view.

The mission manifest for this launch comprised numerous small satellites which went into Low Earth Orbit, including satellites operated by the US Department of Defence, Polish company SatRevolution, and a satellite manufactured in Scotland and operated by Spire Global.

"The RAF congratulates Virgin Orbit on another successful rocket launch, and especially the part played by one of our pilots, Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard.  We look forward to seeing Mathew and the Virgin Orbit team at Spaceport Cornwall later this year for their first launch from the UK."

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston
Chief of the Air Staff

This mission marks a major step forward towards a planned launch by Virgin Orbit this summer from Spaceport Cornwall, which will be the first ever satellite launch from the UK.

"It has been great to be part of another successful mission with Virgin Orbit today. It gives huge confidence in the launch system as we switch gears to focus on the UK launch out of Spaceport Cornwall in the summer."

Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard
RAF Pilot

Rocket in the sky, with sunlight rays blurring view.

The National Space Strategy, published by the UK Government last year, outlines how the UK will develop an orbital launch capability, with current proposed spaceports in Cornwall in England; Scotland’s Shetland Isles, Sutherland, Argyll, Prestwick, and Outer Hebrides; and Snowdonia in Wales.

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