Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Airplane Drops LauncherOne in Successful Test

Following several months of preparations, Richard Branson’s satellite launching company Virgin Orbit conducted its first major test on Wednesday (July 10). And it was a successful one.
Cosmic Girl Airplane Drops LauncherOn 6 photos
Photo: Virgin Orbit
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Virgin Orbit plans to launch satellites for third parties in a horizontal way. Using a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft called Cosmic Girl as a launch platform, and the LauncherOne rocket as a delivery method, the company hopes to get its hands on a big slice of the pie that is the small satellites market.

During Wednesday’s test, the LauncherOne rocket separated from the aircraft in a so-called drop test. The company’s executive dubbed the test a milestone, and said it was all an awesome experience.

The modus operandi of the plane-rocket combo goes something like this: the aircraft climbs to a set altitude (around 35,000 feet) to make it easy for LauncherOne to beat Earth’s gravity. Once there, the rocket detaches and ignites its engine, carrying whatever payload to the desired orbit.

LauncherOne is a two-stage orbital launch vehicle capable of carrying payloads of 300 kilograms (660 lb) into orbit.

Nearly one year ago, Virgin Orbit struck a deal that will allow it to use the Cornwall Airport Newquay in South West England as its base of operations. Flights from there are expected to commence in 2021.

Virgin Orbit plans to sell each flight for $12 million, making it one of the most affordable platforms for small satellite delivery.

As most private space companies have chosen to launch their rockets the old fashion way, straight up from a launchpad, only a couple have ventured into horizontal launch. Aside from Virgin, the other big name in this segment is Stratolaunch.

The company imagined by the former Microsoft founder seems however to be falling behind Branson’s especially after Allen’s death last year.

You can watch a short video of how the LauncherOne drop went in the segment below.
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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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