Satellite-launch company Virgin Orbit has successfully launched its fourth consecutive mission using its air-launched rocket technology.
This launch carried seven satellites to Low Earth Orbit for the United States Space Force. Virgin Orbit has now delivered a total of thirty-three satellites to orbit using its LauncherOne system. The air-launch system uses a carrier aircraft, a modified 747-400 called Cosmic Girl to carry a payload-carrying rocket to a high altitude and then launch it.
LauncherOne is a 70ft long, 57,000 lbs (25,800kg) rocket designed to travel at speeds of up to 20 times the speed of sound (17,000mph) and can carry small satellites, such as communications and weather satellites of up to 660 lbs (300kg).
Virgin Orbit is a sister company to Virgin Galactic, which uses the same approach to launch a passenger-carrying space plane.
LauncherOne is a mobile system and following the success of this launch, the Virgin Orbit team is preparing for its first international launch later this year from Space Port Cornwall in the southwest of the UK. This will be the first orbital launch ever from UK soil.
Virgin Orbit first test flight was unsuccessful, but the company soon reached orbit using LauncherOne in January 2021.
The fourth launch was conducted from a runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and was conducted at night for the first time. It reached an orbit approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface at 45˚ second time reaching that inclination – an orbit that no other system has ever reached from the West Coast.
The seven satellites deployed are from multiple government agencies and will facilitate experiments intended to demonstrate innovative spacecraft technologies, new approaches for satellite applications and Earth atmospheric science.
“The LauncherOne rocket and Virgin Orbit team have made me immensely proud with today’s mission,” said Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson. “There is so much potential benefit for everyone from space if we just manage it well together. We are delighted for the opportunity to work with the US government to help make space a safe and fruitful environment for all.”
Podcast: John Garvey, chief engineer of Launch, Virgin Orbit