Space

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne reaches orbit on second attempt

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rea...
LauncherOne roars into orbit after being dropped by the Cosmic Girl mothership
LauncherOne roars into orbit after being dropped by the Cosmic Girl mothership
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LauncherOne roars into orbit after being dropped by the Cosmic Girl mothership
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LauncherOne roars into orbit after being dropped by the Cosmic Girl mothership

It was the second time's a charm as Virgin Orbit's airdropped LauncherOne rocket put 10 NASA CubeSat payloads into low-Earth orbit on the second attempt in less than eight months under the space agency's Launch Services Program (LSP).

On January 17, 2021, at 10:50 am PST (18:50 GMT), the 747-800 Cosmic Girl mothership with the LauncherOne rocket attached to a wing pylon took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. After taking up position about 50 miles (80 km) south of the Channel Islands off the coast of California, the two-stage rocket was dropped before automatically firing and powering into orbit. A previous launch attempt in May 2020 was cut short due to an inflight anomaly.

According to Virgin Orbit, this marked the first time ever that an orbital class, liquid-fueled, air-launched rocket has successfully reached space, though the US Air Force air launched solid-fueled rockets into space on suborbital trajectories in the 1980s as part of an anti-satellite weapons program.

Air launching allows smaller rockets carrying larger payloads to be deployed inexpensively at short notice from conventional airports in many parts of the world. Yesterday's successful launch was part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and was made up mainly of CubeSats made by American universities, including the PICS CubeSat from Brigham Young University, MiTEE from the University of Michigan, and the CAPE-3 built by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The successful demonstration means that Virgin Orbit will open its next missions to government and commercial customers, including the US Space Force, the Royal Air Force, Swarm Technologies, Italy’s SITAEL, and Denmark’s GomSpace.

"Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible," says Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. "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. I can’t wait to see the incredible missions [Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart] and the team will launch to change the world for good."

The successful launch can be seen in the video below.

“Blue Skies Went to Black:” Mission Recap: Launch Demo 2 | Virgin Orbit

Source: Virgin Orbit

3 comments
3 comments
Rustgecko
Virgin and Branson have been making promises for over 20 years - just a couple of examples:

“Virgin employees have been researching the feasibility of offering space flights for about $100,000 each, as soon as 2009, [Virgin Atlantic spokesman, Paul] Moore said. He added that market research suggests that as many as 200,000 people — wealthy baby boomers who saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon 30 years ago — would be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to experience space travel.” [May 19, 1999 Bloomberg News]

“Richard Branson, ruler of the Virgin empire, is planning a hotel in space and has registered a company, Virgin Galactic Airways, to fly guests into orbit. ‘We’re looking at various things that could enable people to go to space for a reasonable price,’ he told Interneters last week in an online chat. ‘I hope in five years a reusable rocket will have been developed which can take up to 10 people at a time to stay at the Virgin Hotel for two weeks.’” [May 24, 1999 Cedar Rapids Gazette]


fasteddie2020
Nice to see Virgin succeed. There may be customers for this, so let's wish them well. In the meantime, SpaceX has completely reset expectation for what launch costs can be, and that is driving many, many commercial and research payload designs for project that take advantage of those costs. Once, payload cost was about equal to launch cost. For example, a $50 million payload rarely flew on a $200 million launcher and visa versa. SpaceX rideshare launches make even a $1 million payload viable.
BlueOak
Cool stuff - competition breeds creative solutions and drives down costs. Excellent that normal airports can be used.

However...

“ "Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible," says Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.””

Please Sir Branson, list these “many” people who thought it impossible. The concept of flying satellites partially into orbit has been around for a long time and I don’t recall seeing anybody saying it was impossible.