Virgin Orbit gears up for its second attempt to reach space
Virgin Orbit is preparing its pilots, Cosmic Girl mothership and LauncherOne rocket for a second attempt at orbital flight, today announcing that its Launch Demo 2 mission will take place a week before Christmas. The flight follows the company’s unsuccessful first attempt to reach space earlier in the year, with the team this time sending 10 small satellites along for the ride.
For the past few years, Virgin Orbit has been developing and testing its unique launch system, which involves using a modified 747 to carry a rocket to altitude, before releasing it from its wing and firing it into orbit. After an engine burn and stage separation, this Launcher One rocket then delivers the customer’s payload to orbit, while the Cosmic Girl plane returns to land on the airstrip.
The company’s first attempt to reach space took place in May this year, and while it did come up short, it wasn’t a complete failure either. Cosmic Girl carried the rocket to altitude as planned, but an anomaly occurred soon after the first stage engine ignited and the mission was terminated.
So it was back to the drawing board for Virgin Orbit, and after six months of “rigorous” investigation, data analysis, modification and testing, it is now returning to the runway. It recently took Cosmic Girl on a final test flight to simulate the upcoming mission and gather more data, before mating the rocket to the Cosmic Girl’s wing.
This time around, Virgin Orbit will carry 10 CubeSats for US universities aboard the LauncherOne rocket, and deliver them to orbit all going to plan. With only some final tests to carry out before takeoff, the Cosmic Girl will launch from Virgin Orbit’s base in the Mojave desert on December 19, with a backup launch window available on December 20 and in the following weeks if necessary.
Source: Virgin Orbit