Virgin Orbit has shown off new images of its LauncherOne rocket and its 737 airborne launch platform attached together for its first fit check.
For a launch the rocket will be attached to the left wing of the customized 737, named “Cosmic Girl” and flown to 30,000ft. At that point LauncherOne is released and its thrusters fire to take it to outer space.
The 70ft long, 57,000 lb (25,800kg) rocket will travel at speeds of up to 20 times the speed of sound (17,000mph) and is designed to carry small satellites, such as be communications and weather satellites of up to 660 lb (300kg).
The integration check of the rocket with Cosmic Girl was conducted to verify that the mechanical, electrical and software elements of the launch platform all work together. It was conducted at Long Beach airport in California.
Virgin Galactic plans to operate the launch system from its base in the Mojave Dessert, USA and Cornwall in the UK.
Work on LauncherOne began in 2007. It uses two engines – a 73,500 lbf thrust NewtonThree main stage engine, and a 5,000 lbf thrust NewtonFour upper stage engine, both of which are fuelled by a liquid oxygen/kerosene propellant.
Virgin Orbit has previously stated it plans to launch the rocket for the first time during 2018 and was awarded a licence by the FAA to launch in June.