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Cosmic Girl Airplane Cuts Through the Clouds, Performs Mid-Air Rocket Launch

On January 13th, Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl aircraft launched seven satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket as part of the company's Above the Clouds mission. The successful rocket launch also depended on RAF pilot Mathew Stannard who was part of the flight crew.
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl aircraft 6 photos
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl aircraftVirgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl launches satellite-carrying rocketVirgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocketVirgin Orbit's Cosmic GirlVirgin Orbit Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne
Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747-400, was operated by Virgin Orbit's Chief Pilot Eric Bippert and Flight Lieutenant Mathew "Stanny" Stannard, who is seconded to Virgin Orbit. The airplane took to the skies from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1:39 p.m. PST, heading to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean.

From there, it climbed above the clouds, carrying under its wing the company's LauncherOne, a two-stage orbital launch vehicle that is capable of carrying payloads of up to 600 lbs (300 kilograms) into orbit. Cosmic Girl deployed the rocket, which ignited and propelled itself towards space, taking with it seven customer satellites.

Virgin Orbit's innovative air-launch technique allowed the mission to be launched in an orbit that was not accessible before from the West Coast of the Americas. LauncherOne was able to successfully deploy its payloads 311 miles (500 km) above Earth.

The recently launched satellites include experiments that will test technologies such as advanced in-space communication, debris detection, navigation and propulsion, and systems that will be used in the agricultural sector.

The Above the Clouds mission raises Virgin Orbit's total number of satellites launched into orbit to 26, and it represents a big step toward the company's future mission from Spaceport Cornwall. The planned launch will be the first one to be carried from the UK.

"The RAF congratulates Virgin Orbit on another successful rocket launch, and especially the part played by one of our pilots, Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard. We look forward to seeing Mathew and the Virgin Orbit team at Spaceport Cornwall later this year for their first launch from the UK," said Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff.

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