More precisely, the company is targeting a launch demo of the Cosmic Girl airplane, carrying the LauncherOne with it, a two stage orbital rocket.
As those with a passion for space exploration already know, Virgin Orbit plans to become a major space flight facilitator by launching small satellites for third parties. The system involves a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft that carries the rocket under its belly, which in turn holds the space-bound load.
Technically, this is done as follows: Cosmic Girl climbs to a set altitude (around 35,000 feet) to make it easy for LauncherOne to beat Earth’s gravity. Once there, the rocket, capable of carrying up to 300 kilograms (660 lb) detaches and ignites its engine, carrying a payload to the target orbit.
This week’s test aims to be “the apex of a five-year-long development program.” Other tests have been performed before, including one that called for the LauncherOne to be dropped from under Cosmic Girl, but this will be the first that actually requires the rocket to ignite its engine mid-flight.
“The instant our Newton Three engine ignites, we will have done something no one has ever done before — lighting an orbital-class, liquid-fueled, horizontally-launched vehicle in flight. If LauncherOne reaches an altitude of 50 miles on this mission, it will be the first time this kind of launch system has reached space,” Virgin Orbit says in a statement.
The launch will take place in the skies over the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.