Virgin Orbit's "flying launchpad" completes first captive carry flight
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl took to the skies over Southern California on November 18, 2018 carrying a 70-ft-long (21-m) rocket for the first time. The specially modified 747-400 "flying launchpad" with the LauncherOne small-satellite booster under its port wing took off from Victorville, California on an 80-minute test flight designed to assess the take-off, landing, and low-speed handling and performance of the integrated aircraft and carbon-fiber two-stage rocket.
According to Virgin Orbit, Sunday's test flight by Sir Richard Branson's small satellite launch company was the first in a series leading up to an actual orbital launch early next year. Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart called it "a picture-perfect flight, and a major step forward in our quest to bring a new capability to small satellite launch."
The modified passenger aircraft and its rocket cargo are scheduled to carry out more tests over the coming months to gather more flight data on how well the mated systems work, as well as the robustness of the liquid-fueled rocket's composite design, avionics, and onboard computers. This will culminate in a dead-drop of the rocket without its engine firing to provide additional flight data during free fall. After its initial launch mission, Virgin Orbit plans to carry out several launches per year.
"The vehicles flew like a dream today," says Virgin Orbit Chief Pilot Kelly Latimer (Lieutenant Colonel, US Air Force, Retired). "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."
The video below shows highlights of the captive carry flight.
Source: Virgin Orbit
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