Space

Virgin Orbit attaches first booster to its 747-turned-rocket launcher

Virgin Orbit attaches first bo...
Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson’s business operations out beyond the stratosphere
Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson’s business operations out beyond the stratosphere
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For some time now, Virgin Orbit and its imaginative CEO Richard Branson have been talking about fixing a rocket to the wing of a modified 747 and using it to fire satellites into space
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For some time now, Virgin Orbit and its imaginative CEO Richard Branson have been talking about fixing a rocket to the wing of a modified 747 and using it to fire satellites into space
Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson’s business operations out beyond the stratosphere
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Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson’s business operations out beyond the stratosphere
The Virgin Orbit team
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The Virgin Orbit team
Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne measures 70 ft long and has the capacity to carry payloads as small as a loaf of bread or as big as a fridge
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Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne measures 70 ft long and has the capacity to carry payloads as small as a loaf of bread or as big as a fridge
Virgin Orbit hopes to start commercial flights in 2021
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Virgin Orbit hopes to start commercial flights in 2021
Virgin orbit says LauncherOne will engage its thrusters and fly into orbit early next year
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Virgin orbit says LauncherOne will engage its thrusters and fly into orbit early next year
Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights
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Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights
Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson’s business operations out beyond the stratosphere
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Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson’s business operations out beyond the stratosphere
Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights
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Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights
Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne measures 70 ft long and has the capacity to carry payloads as small as a loaf of bread and as big as a fridge
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Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne measures 70 ft long and has the capacity to carry payloads as small as a loaf of bread and as big as a fridge
For some time now, Virgin Orbit and its imaginative CEO Richard Branson have been talking about fixing a rocket to the wing of a modified 747 and using it to fire satellites into spacecalled
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For some time now, Virgin Orbit and its imaginative CEO Richard Branson have been talking about fixing a rocket to the wing of a modified 747 and using it to fire satellites into spacecalled
Virgin Orbit CEO Richard Branson inside the company's Cosmic Girl mothership
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Virgin Orbit CEO Richard Branson inside the company's Cosmic Girl mothership

For some time now, Virgin Orbit and its imaginative CEO Richard Branson have been talking about fixing a rocket to the wing of a modified 747 and using it to fire satellites into space. The company is now one step closer to giving this audacious plan a go, after successfully integrating its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of the first test flights.

Virgin Orbit is another Virgin spinoff that, much like its close relative Virgin Galactic, is hoped to lift Branson's business operations out beyond the stratosphere. While Virgin Galactic is built to take tourists to space, Virgin Orbit will instead focus on delivering customer payloads into orbit.

Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights
Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights

This begins with a modified 747 called Cosmic Girl, which carries a set of pylons beneath its left wing to accommodate the company's purpose-built LauncherOne rocket. The plan is to have Cosmic Girl carry LauncherOne to an altitude of 35,000 ft (10,700 m) and release it. At this point, the rocket fires up its main engine, followed by its upper stage engines, and blasts the payload into space, while Cosmic Girl comes down like a regular 747 and prepares to go again.

Last month, Virgin Orbit showed off its Cosmic Girl mothership in flight with the rocket-holding pylons in place. The latest step forward took place at Long Beach Airport in California, where the Virgin Orbit team actually fixed the rocket onto those pylons for the first time and carried out some on-ground tests to make sure all electrics, software and mechanics were in working order.

Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights
Virgin Orbit has successfully integrated its LauncherOne rocket into its Cosmic Girl mothership ahead of its first test flights

LauncherOne measures 70 ft (21 m) long and has the capacity to carry payloads as small as a loaf of bread or as big as a fridge. Cosmic Girl, meanwhile, is the first 747 to have ever been converted into a rocket launcher, and will be able to fly thousands of miles in any direction and deliver goods to orbit at 24 hours notice – at least according to Virgin Orbit, which says the current wait times for such services are 18 to 24 months.

The company now plans to move onto test flights, the first of which will involve simply releasing the rocket and letting it free fall to the ground while data is collected along the way. Virgin orbit says LauncherOne will engage its thrusters and fly into orbit early next year for further testing, with the first commercial flights slated for 2021.

Source: Virgin Orbit

5 comments
guzmanchinky
Seriously is there anything the 747 can't do??? Air Force One Supertanker Fire Fighter Space Shuttle Carrier Airborne Laser Platform Rocket Launcher The list goes on...
Joshua Tulberg
So awesome.
Gregg Eshelman
Most 747 planes have a 5th engine mounting pylon under the left wing. Its intended (yet rarely used) purpose is for ferrying replacement engines out to locations that are either inaccessible to the normal ground transport used for them, or for when a replacement is needed ASAP. The pylon can of course also be used to carry back engines needing repair. Normally it's a 'dumb' pylon without any fuel, hydraulic, or electrical connections and of course cannot be used to drop payloads while airborne. But its existence provides a ready made and FAA certified hard point to adapt for other uses. That it's been installed on almost every 747 made, though it's gone unused on most of the planes through their entire service life can also be chalked up to the FAA and other countries' aeronautical agencies. Removing the mount, even though the structure would be replaced with a mirror image of the same section from the right wing, would entail lengthy and expensive certification procedures for what should be a quick 'rubber stamp' approval of long proven and already approved components, just made in reverse.
Paul Muad'Dib
I didn't read anything about the cost vs conventional rockets.
guzmanchinky
Gregg thanks, did not know that!