Virgin Orbit is a subsidiary of the private aerospace giant Virgin Galactic, a company with high ambitions in being an active participant in the space tourism industry. However, Virgin Orbit’s goal is a much simpler one — launching small satellites into orbits with ultralight vehicles.
Virgin Orbit was founded in California in 2017. Dan Hart, the company executive, has previously worked with Boeing as Vice President of government satellite systems.
The company’s main development is the LauncherOne vehicle that is launched from the air. It takes off attached to the wing of a Boeing 747. The modified Boeing version is called Cosmic Girl, as in the song of the same name by British artist Jamiroquai.
LauncherOne technical characteristics:
· construction: two-stage;
· length: 16 meters;
· launch height: 10,700 meters;
· SSO payload up to 300 kg.
Originally, LauncherOne was supposed to launch from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) platform that is considerably smaller than Cosmic Girl. However, as the rocket dimensions increased, the company was forced to search for alternative solutions.
Cosmic Girl — Boeing 747-400 passenger airliner modified for vehicle launch from the air — offered them the perfect solution. In 2015, it was acquired by Virgin Galactic, and in 2017 this plane became the property of Virgin Orbit. Cosmic Girl doubled the LauncherOne payload capacity.
The company has not disclosed any information about its future launches yet. However, the CubeSat tab on NASA website mentions the launch of ten satellites during the second flight of LauncherOne.
The company’s official Twitter account announced in late January that their vehicle was in the final stages of testing preparation and they recently conducted successful taxi tests of Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne onboard. Their first orbital launch should be just around the corner.
In early February, Dan Hart announced that LauncherOne would lift off within weeks. The vehicle will carry additional equipment, and Virgin Orbit’s plane will take off from Mojave aerospace port in California.