Virgin Orbit to Expand Fleet of Satellite-Launching Aircraft, Cosmic Girl Gets a Sibling

Ask anyone with the slightest of knowledge of space exploration which company revolutionized the industry over the past decade, and they’ll most likely answer SpaceX. Elon Musk's company did that thanks to the reusable rockets they came up with, opening up the skies to pretty much anyone with an interest in it, at prices far lower than what disposable launchers were able to offer.
Cosmic Girl to get a brother. Or sister. 6 photos
Photo: Virgin Orbit
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For what it's worth, SpaceX still does things in a mostly traditional way, using a rocket taking off vertically from a pad, and heading for the sky. But there’s another way one could launch things into orbit, one that can be even cheaper than what SpaceX is offering: horizontal launches.

To do that, all you need is a specially converted aircraft, capable of climbing high enough for a rocket to shoot into orbit from under its wings, carrying whatever cargo. There are several companies working on this at the moment, but by far the most advanced is Virgin Orbit, born from the mind that generated all Virgin companies ever, Richard Branson's.

Using a specially-converted Boeing 747-400 nicknamed Cosmic Girl, the company has launched stuff up there this way three times already, and it is speeding up the process, including by performing such a mission, for the first time, from Western Europe, later in the summer.

Seeing how the business is growing, Virgin Orbit announced this week the fleet of aircraft capable of launching items beyond the Earth’s atmosphere will expand with two new members that will join the Cosmic Girl family.

Both are also Boeings of the 747-400 kind, and just like the Cosmic Girl, they will be converted by L3Harris. One is meant for use as a launch platform, and the other for cargo duties, to deliver rockets and ground support equipment to where it’s needed.

Virgin Orbit expects to have the second launch airplane, still unnamed, ready in 2023.
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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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