Virgin Orbit’s “Cosmic Girl” Jet Succeeds at First Captive-Carry Flight with Rocket

The company just got one giant step closer to launching satellites thanks to captive-carry engineering.
Shelby Rogers

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 had its first successful test flight, complete with a LauncherOne rocket under its wing.

The plane showcased its technology with an 80 minute captive carry flight from Victorville Airport in California, roughly 60 miles away from Los Angeles.

After months of meticulous planning by Virgin Engineers, the team hopes it can start sending satellites into orbit next year.

The test was “a picture-perfect flight, and a major step forward in our quest to bring a new capability to small satellite launch,” said Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, in a statement. “There’s still important work to do, but I know our team and our customers were all thrilled to see us taking this important step forward.”

The 70-foot-long LauncherOne rocket was designed to drop from the 747’s carrier pylon after the craft reached 30,000 feet. Then it would fire up is engine to send payloads into low Earth Orbit.

Virgin also wants to use that technology in its SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo rocket plans.

The flight wasn’t autonomous. Virgin Orbit’s flight crew helped with takeoff, landing, and low-speed handling of the system.  

“The vehicles flew like a dream today,” said Virgin Orbit Chief Pilot Kelly Latimer in the statement. “Everyone on the flight crew and all of our colleagues on the ground were extremely happy with the data we saw from the instruments on-board the aircraft, in the pylon, and on the rocket itself. From my perspective in the cockpit, the vehicles handled incredibly well, and perfectly matched what we’ve trained for in the simulators.”