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Cosmic Girl No Longer Virgin, Will Fly Missions for Stratolaunch

Almost two months ago, one of Richard Branson's space companies, Virgin Orbit, announced it filed for Chapter 11 protection. For all those playing in the space industry, but also for those of us with a passion for it, the announcement came as a shock.
Stratolaunch saves Cosmic Girl Boeing from failed Virgin Orbit 26 photos
Photo: Virgin Orbit
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That's because of two reasons. The first is that, despite a failed launch from the UK at the beginning of the year due to a mechanical issue, the company still seemed on track to continue operations, and had a number of orders lined up. The second reason is that the move is the first bankruptcy of a major space startup since the entire boom in this industry began.

The initial plan the company had was to stay under Chapter 11 protection until Virgin Orbit could be sold as a whole, and continue operations. Back in April, we were even told there were quite a few interested parties.

Instead, we got word earlier this week that Virgin Orbit will not sell to live on, after all, but is completely shutting down. That's not some possible outcome, but a fact, as the company sold its assets, in pieces, to other players in the space industry, namely Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch, and Vast.

It's the Stratolaunch deal we're interested in now. As you know, this company is in the business of enabling "reusable and routine hypersonic testing through world-class aerospace vehicles and in-flight test capabilities."

The way it does that is by using a carrier airplane called Roc to release hypersonic vehicles at set altitudes. Roc is a twin-fuselage machine that by all accounts has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in the world, at 385 feet (117 meters).

Coincidentally, that's how Virgin Orbit used to launch payloads for its customers into orbit. It used a Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl for the task. Modified to be able to carry an orbital launcher under its wing, like some sort of missile, it performed flawlessly during the few missions Virgin Orbit ended up facilitating.

It's this plane Stratolaunch got its hands on this week. It's an important new asset for the growing company, which only had the Roc to rely on for its missions.

The Cosmic Girl will not be left in the Virgin Orbit configuration, but it will be modified and repurposed to become the launch platform for the Talon-A autonomous test bed. That's a missile-like drone that can be used to test various payloads, at hypersonic speeds, for paying customers. The Cosmic Girl, probably wearing another name after the overhaul, is expected to fly in Stratolaunch's service sometime next year.

The sale of the plane is not yet concluded, pending some closing conditions, but all of them should be clear by July 31. The price of the Cosmic Girl was $17 million.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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