Virgin Orbit is a company based in California that launches satellites into orbit. The company confirmed that its LauncherOne rocket reached space during its second launch demonstration held on Sunday. The mission placed ten payloads into orbit for NASA’s Launch Services Program.
The launch system the company uses features a technique called air launch, using a rocket launched from underneath the wing of a jet aircraft rather than launching from the ground. Virgin Orbit uses the technique to improve the rocket’s payload capacity, allowing LauncherOne to be flexible and responsive.
The company can fly on short notice and from a wide variety of locations allowing access to any orbit. The carrier aircraft used by the service is a customized 747-400 called Cosmic Girl. The aircraft took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at 10:50 AM Sunday, flying to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. Once at the launch site, the rocket was released from the aircraft, and its two-stage rocket motor ignited and pushed it into orbit.
The payload aboard the rocket included ten CubeSats placed into a precise target orbit. NASA LSP selected all the payloads aboard the rocket as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. Virgin Orbit says most CubeSat missions were designed, built, and tested by universities around the United States.
The flight marked the first time an orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket successfully reached space. Virgin Orbit says the flight is the cumulation of many years of hard work and opens the doors to a new generation of innovators on the path to orbit. The company is currently readying its next few rockets for integration at its manufacturing facility.