The RAF has selected a Typhoon pilot to lead its new space programme in collaboration with Virgin Orbit.
Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard, 30, is being seconded to the programme which will use modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft to launch satellites into space.
The modified plane, called Cosmic Girl, carries a rocket attachment beneath its left wing which will be fired into space once the plane reaches cruising altitude.
Flt Lt Stannard said: “I have flown Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets in the RAF but being involved in Virgin Orbit’s space programme is truly a unique opportunity.”
Although the Virgin Orbit programme is still awaiting the green light from regulators in the UK and US, when it is active it will run for three years.
Defence minister Annie-Marie Trevelyan said: “The UK and the US already have an incredibly close defence relationship and now we’re working together to forge new frontiers in space.
“This exciting partnership will see Virgin Orbit benefit from the skills and expertise of our personnel while propelling the RAF’s space ambitions to new heights.”
The announcement follows the Ministry of Defence outlining its space programme in July, committing £30m towards the demonstration launches of small satellites within a year.
The small satellite demonstrator which is known as Programme Artemis is being delivered by a new transatlantic team of British and American defence personnel and industry partners including Virgin Orbit.
The MoD also announced the UK would be the first formal partner involved in the the US-led Operation Olympic Defender, which is an international military effort to “strengthen deterrence against hostile actors in space, enhance resilience and preserve the safety of spaceflight”.
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