(CNN) — On the south-west tip of England, overhanging the Atlantic Ocean, remote Cornwall rarely feels like the center of the world.
But recently, locals saw a very special plane fly low overhead, take off from the runway at Little Newquay Airport, the UK’s 29th largest airport, circle the coast before touching back and backing away.
And it’s not just any aircraft. From the ground, it’s no ordinary Boeing 747, either. In fact, it’s a “queen of the sky” redesigned for the space race, taking a test flight ahead of taking part in the UK’s first orbital space launch next month. It will fly from Spaceport Cornwall, which shares the airport’s 1.7 miles of regular runway.
Mark Andrew, from near Newquay, went to the spaceport after get off work this week to watch the plane land.
“It’s been great to watch, and when my little boy grows up tell him it’s going to be a beautiful piece of history,” he told CNN, who is now preparing to return for the launch in November.
Cosmic Girl, as the plane is called, is the vehicle that Virgin Orbit is bidding to launch seven satellites into space.
The jumbo, which served Virgin Atlantic until 2015, has been modified to carry LauncherOne, a California-made rocket that will reach Earth orbit.
Cosmic Girl is an ex-Virgin Atlantic 747 to be launched from Newquay, UK
Next month, Cosmic Girl will take off from Newquay’s cliff runway with the LauncherOne under its wing – which will unleash the rocket once the 747 reaches 34,000ft.
Inside there will be seven payloads, or satellites, which will begin orbiting Earth in low Earth orbit.
Test flight by the locals
Virgin Orbit wrote in a statement that using the 747 for horizontal launches allows for “a wider orbital reach than conventional ground-based launch systems.”
According to the company, the event will be the UK’s first orbital space launch and Virgin Orbit’s first international launch. It will also be the first European launch of a satellite, according to Ian Annett, deputy chief executive of the UK Space Agency.
LauncherOne completed its first full launch rehearsal in Long Beach, California, on October 2 before flying to the UK last Friday to meet Cosmic Girls, who arrived in Cornwall on October 11.
Cosmic Girl completed a nearly three-hour test flight in Cornwall and south-west England on October 14, with Cornwall locals noticing it flying low over their gardens.
Rocket LauncherOne has now joined Cosmic Girls at Spaceport Newquay.
Virgin Orbit’s chief pilot Matthew Stannard, who will fly the 747 for the launch, said: “It’s fantastic to bring Cosmic Girls back to the UK. We’re still a few days away from the UK’s first launch from Spaceport Cornwall. week, so it’s all very real.”
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: “Seeing the infrastructure in place makes our launch ambitions a reality.”
Want to see more Cosmic Girls? Virgin Orbit is planning horizontal launches in Australia, Brazil, Japan, Poland and the Republic of Korea.