Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne reaches orbit on second attempt
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.
Source: Virgin Orbit