Watch Virgin Orbit Join Elite Club With Successful Rocket Launch
Virgin Orbit successfully deployed a number of satellites in orbit on Sunday by firing a rocket launched from a jet aircraft into space.
This makes Virgin Orbit just the third privately funded space company to enter orbit, placing it in an elite club alongside SpaceX and Rocket Lab.
Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 aircraft, Cosmic Girl, took off at 10:38 a.m. from the company’s Mojave Air and Spaceport in the California desert before flying over the Pacific and releasing its satellite-loaded aircraft at around 11:40 a.m. PT LauncherOne missile emerged from under her left wing.
Three hours after the launch of the two-stage rocket, Virgin Orbit was able to confirm the successful deployment of nine satellites for NASA.
“Payloads successfully deployed in our target orbit!” The company tweeted at around 3 p.m. PT, adding, “We’re so proud to say that LauncherOne has now completed its first mission in space, launching 9 CubeSat missions into Low Earth Orbit for our friends @NASA.”
Virgin Orbit did not broadcast the event live, but instead informed followers via a steady stream of tweets. Dramatic footage of the missiles being fired from the plane was released later in the day.
Today’s sequence of events for # LaunchDemo2 went exactly according to plan, from safely completing our ground operations to successful full-duration burns on both engines. To say we’re excited would be a massive understatement, but 240 characters still couldn’t do it justice. pic.twitter.com/ZKpoi7hkGN
– Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) January 18, 2021
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Orbit, said the successful mission would “unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit.”
NASA boss Jim Bridenstine was appropriately impressed with the performance and of course was delighted with the safe use of the space agency’s satellites. He tweeted, “Congratulations to the @Virgin_Orbit team! A great achievement! “SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck also congratulated on Twitter.
The mission was Virgin Orbit’s second attempt to reach orbit. An attempt in May 2020 failed when an anomaly in the NewtonThree engine of the first stage of the rocket shut down just seconds after it was fired. An investigation revealed that the fault was caused by a problem with the fuel line, which was resolved.
Sunday’s successful efforts mean Virgin Orbit will now begin building its business as a small satellite launcher, competing with giants like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.
Both SpaceX and Rocket Lab launch satellites into space using more conventional ground-based rocket launches. According to Virgin Orbit, the vastly different air launch system will leverage a global network of spaceports to give companies that want to deploy small satellites more options about when and where to fly into orbit. The video below provides an overview of Virgin Orbit’s launch system and its plans for the future.