Virgin Orbit Launches 10 CubeSats to Space off of an Aircraft
Sunday marked the first day a privately funded U.S. company successfully launched payloads to orbit mid-air.
Virgin Orbit launched its liquid-fueled rocket, LauncherOne, out from beneath the wing of a specially customized old Virgin Boeing 747-400 aircraft, aptly named Cosmic Girl.
The launch happened on Sunday morning around 10:50 AM PT (13:30 PM EST) from California's Mojave Desert, and saw Cosmic Girl part ways from the rocket at approximately 35,000 feet (10,500 meters) in the air.
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After a few seconds of freefall, LauncherOne's engines booted in and sent it into space. There, the rocket released its 10 payloads that were built by NASA researchers and a number of U.S. university scientists.
Yesterday was a good day for the Virgin team, who suffered a failed launch last Spring. Sir Richard Branson's company is hoping to become a player in the market for lower-cost satellite launches.
Theoretically, by using a 747 aircraft as a rocket launch platform, Virgin Orbit can launch from anywhere in the world that has a long enough airport runway. However, the system has to first be licensed in the locality where it's used, and currently that's only possible in California.
Today's sequence of events for #LaunchDemo2 went exactly to plan, from safe execution of our ground ops all the way through successful full duration burns on both engines. To say we're thrilled would be a massive understatement, but 240 characters couldn't do it justice anyway. pic.twitter.com/ZKpoi7hkGN— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) January 18, 2021
"A new gateway to space has just sprung open! That LauncherOne was able to successfully reach orbit today is a testament to this team’s talent, precision, drive, and ingenuity," said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.
With operations for our #LaunchDemo2 mission already in full swing, it's an exciting morning here at Mojave Air and Space Port!— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) January 17, 2021
LOX loading on the rocket has begun, and we're looking good to hit our target takeoff time of approximately 10:30 AM Pacific. pic.twitter.com/naBppEJRhD
Virgin group's founder, Sir Richard Branson, said that "Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible. It was so inspiring to see our specially adapted Virgin Atlantic 747, Cosmic Girl, send the LauncherOne rocket soaring into orbit."
"This magnificent flight is the culmination of many years of hard work and will also unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit."
So far, Virgin Orbit has a few clients already booked for future payload launches. For instance, the U.S. Space Force, and the U.K.'s Royal Air Force.