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UK Space Launch

On Monday (9th January) the UK began it’s first ever orbital space launch. A repurposed Virgin Atlantic 747 jet released a rocket over the Atlantic to launch nine satellites into Space. The company leading this is Virgin Orbit, founded by Sir Richard Branson, and began at Newquay Airport in Cornwall. Following the 747 take-off, with a rocket underneath its left wing, the jet headed west to a designated launch zone off the coast of Southern Ireland. From 35,000ft it then released the rocket which ignited its first-stage engine to begin the climb to orbit. However, the engine did not reach the required orbit due to the second stage engine having a technical anomaly. This “technical failure” at 17,700km/h resulted in the rocket launch being classed as a failure.

The satellites were planned to be used for a variety of civil and military applications which included monitoring and navigation technology. The director of commercial spaceflight, at the UK Space Agency, described the event as a “space race for this moment, as we wanted to beat Norway and Sweden for the first orbital rocket launch from Europe”. This forms part of the UK’s successful satellite industry which is a major manufacturer of satellites and interpreter of satellite data but now still remains unsuccessful at launching them after this first attempt for the continent. However, Virgin Orbit are now aiming for a second attempt later this year.

Newspapers & Politics

The UK’s front page news cycle over the last seven days has covered a wide range of topics ranging from relations within the Royal family to PM Sunak introducing compulsory maths until the age of 18 for all school children. The PM has also kicked off the year by introducing five pledges to the nation. This included halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing national debt, reducing NHS waiting lists and stopping illegal migration across the English Channel. Some of the newspaper front pages over the last week were:

  • The Independent: Quarter of adults go to A&E as they can’t get GP appointment
  • The Guardian: PM looks at one-off cash offer to end nurses’ strike
  • Financial Times Weekend: Sunak invites union leaders to talks
  • The Daily Telegraph: Starmer- We’re no longer the party of big spending
  • The Times: Sunak- My five pledges to restore British pride
  • The Independent: UK hunts for China’s next COVID variant
  • The Times: Compulsory maths until 18 for every schoolchild
  • Financial Times: UK recession will be deepest and longest, say economists

Sky News has compiled and developed a webpage documenting every donation made to political parties and politicians in the UK which has gained widespread attention. In total, £183m has been externally spent on the British political system during this Parliament (since December 2019) from a variety of wealthy individuals and companies. The data suggests that over £17m has been earned by MPs from second jobs during this period with the Conservative Party MPs earning £15.4m of this. The top earning MP was Theresa May who gained £2.8m during the period with earnings of £408,200 from the Cambridge Speaker Series alone. In terms of political party donations: the Conservatives received £76m, Labour received over £32m and the Liberal Democrats received £15m.

Britishvolt

UK battery firm Britishvolt is a start-up manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries (for automotive vehicles) which began constructing a gigafactory in the North of England in 2021. The two cofounders are Orral Nadjari (Swedish former investment banker) and Lars Carlstrom (Swedish automotive entrepreneur). Britishvolt has built relations with manufacturers such as Aston Martin and Lotus but has faced financial difficulties due to the £3.8bn required for their gigafactory construction- which would be the nation’s fourth largest building.

At present, production has been delayed until mid-2025 (a delay of 18 months) but is on track to employ 3,000 staff. Additionally, the UK government has historically championed the project with funding of £100m supplied to the business. However, the company still requires further funds which has now led to the business being in talks over a possible sale to a consortium of investors to help secure Britishvolt’s future. The existing 300 staff have already taken a pay cut to help support the business.

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