Virgin Galactic has announced that it has added a new aircraft to its fleet of space access vehicle. The new aircraft is a 747-400 and it is dubbed “Cosmic Girl” by Virgin. The aircraft will be used as a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle.
Part of the plan to cheaply place satellites into orbit that Virgin Galactic has involves using specially fitted commercial aircraft with satellite launch vehicles attached under the wing. The aerial launch gets the satellites off the ground so less fuel is required to reach orbit.
Virgin Galactic can put satellites into sun-synchronous orbit that weigh as much as 200kg at a price of less than $10 million. Additional cost can achieve launched to other altitudes or inclinations. The launch system can place up to 400kg of payload into other orbits.
Virgin chose the 747-400 because there are years of experience with this platform, maintenance, and spare parts supply chains. The carrier aircraft can also launch from any runway capable of handling 747 operations. “Cosmic Girl” was already part of the Virgin family originally operating with Virgin airlines. The aircraft will carry the launch vehicle under the left wing.
SOURCE: Virgin Galactic