Category Archives: Virgin Orbit

A new role for the Boeing 747

Virgin Galactic has made this announcement:

Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, announced today that it has successfully completed a key drop test of its LauncherOne vehicle, the last major step in the development program of the company’s novel launch service. In the run-up to its first space shot, Virgin Orbit has completed a steady progression of test flights with its “flying launch pad” Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne vehicle — and today’s achievement marks the beginning of the company’s transition to its orbital test flight launch campaign.

On this flight, Virgin Orbit released a fully built, fully loaded — although inert — LauncherOne rocket from Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 that serves as the rocket’s carrier aircraft.  Today’s test flight began with a takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port at Mojave, CA, at 8:43 A.M. Pacific; the drop itself occurred at 9:13 A.M. Pacific from an altitude of 35,000 feet over a testing range at Edwards Air Force Base.  The primary purpose of the test was to monitor the few critical seconds just after release, to ensure the rocket and aircraft separate cleanly and to observe how the rocket freefalls through the air.

The drop test represents the last major step of a development program that began in 2015, focused not just on designing the LauncherOne vehicle but proving it out alongside the modified 747 that serves as the company’s carrier aircraft.

The flight was piloted by Virgin Orbit’s Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer (Lt. Col. USAF, Ret.) and Todd Ericson (Col. USAF, Ret.), both of whom also fly for Virgin Orbit’s sister company, Virgin Galactic. Also on board were Zack Rubin, Flight Test Director; Bryce Schaefer, Launch Engineer; Jason Panzarino, Launch Engineer; and Kevin Sagis, Chief Engineer.

In Virgin Orbit’s final progression to launch, it has advanced on three parallel streams of work: First, the team needed to test LauncherOne on the ground, proving that its engines, tanks, pumps, software and all other elements can function together as integrated stages. That effort culminated in full thrust, integrated hotfires of both LauncherOne’s main and upper stages. At the same time, Virgin Orbit needed to complete its flight test program — which has now come to a close with today’s drop test.

Finally, the company also needed to build, assemble and test its first orbital test flight rocket. Later this month, Virgin Orbit will finalize that rocket’s assembly before handing it off to the company’s operations team for a rigorous series of checks and rehearsals leading up to its first launches to space later this year.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart: “Today’s test was a monumental step forward for us. It’s the capstone to a thorough development program not just for a rocket, but for our carrier aircraft, our ground support equipment, and all of our flight procedures. I’m extremely proud of the team for getting us to this point, and for their spectacular performance today. I’ve told them to take a few hours now to celebrate — our first launch campaign begins in the morning.”

Latimer said: “The whole flight went incredibly well. The release was extremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely. There was a small roll with the aircraft, just as we expected. Everything matched what we’d seen in the simulators well — in fact, the release dynamics and the aircraft handling qualities were both better than we expected. This was the best kind of test flight sortie from a test pilot’s perspective — an uneventful one.”

Virgin Orbit’s modified 747 aircraft enables the company to quickly transport its entire launch site to new locations around the world, launching each satellite from the optimal location. In addition to the Mojave Air and Space Port — the California launch site that will be home to the company’s first orbital launch as well as subsequent launches to high inclination orbits — other spaceports both new and established have announced that they are working to prepare themselves for future missions of LauncherOne, including the Launch and Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom, the Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Italy, and others.

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Virgin Orbit to bring orbital launch to the UK

Virgin Orbit is bringing new orbital launch capabilities to the UK that will help expand the country’s space economy and accelerate satellite technology innovation.

Although Virgin Orbit is an American company and based in Long Beach, California, there’s no denying that the heart and soul of Virgin resides in the UK. It’s why the team is so proud to announce a new partnership with Spaceport Cornwall and the UK Space Agency to conduct the first ever flights to space from British soil.

 

Virgin Orbit revealed its plans to conduct orbital rocket launches from Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021. To reach space, Virgin Orbit has designed and built a one-of-a-kind air-launch platform that uses a modified former-Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 aircraft aptly named Cosmic Girl. Cosmic Girl carries a LauncherOne rocket under her left wing, and deploys the rocket around cruising altitude before it jettisons off to space with a customer’s small satellite tucked away in its fairing.

Air-launch comes with a number of benefits over the typical vertical launch you’re probably used to seeing. Most notably, it gives Virgin Orbit the freedom to bypass the traffic jam headaches at established launch ranges. Plus, the team can kick off launches from the UK relatively quickly, since most modern airports like Newquay are already equipped to support the system. There’s no need to spend tens of millions and a decade or more building out a brand new launch pad.

All images by Virgin Orbit.

Ex-Virgin Atlantic G-VWOW is now with Virgin Orbit as N744VG “Cosmic Girl”

Ex-Virgin Atlantic G-VWOW

Virgin Orbit is the newest member of the Virgin Group:

“We are the newest member of the Virgin family, and we are thrilled to be here! Our team is hard at work launching the smallsat revolution. Right now, our engineering-driven team are integrating rockets, filling up our launch manifest, preparing for our initial orbital flights, and yes, finding time here and there to build out a full website. While we get that last one finished up, here’s a bit more about our technology, our mission, and our team.”

Virgin Orbit continues;

WE ARE IN THE FINAL STAGES OF TESTING AND PREPARATION FOR LAUNCHERONE, A TWO-STAGE, EXPENDABLE, LOX/RP-1 ROCKET THAT LAUNCHES FROM OUR MOBILE AIR LAUNCH PAD, A DEDICATED 747-400 CARRIER AIRCRAFT, CALLED COSMIC GIRL.

Cosmic Girl will carry LauncherOne to an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before release for its rocket-powered flight to orbit. Starting each mission with an airplane rather than a traditional groundbased launch pad offers performance benefits in terms of payload capacity, but more importantly, air-launch offers an unparalleled level of flexibility.

LauncherOne will operate from a variety of locations independently of traditional launch ranges—which are often congested with traffic—and will have the ability to operate through or around weather conditions and other impediments that delay traditional launches.

Once released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket fires up its single main stage engine, a 73,500 lbf, LOX/RP-1 rocket engine called the “NewtonThree.” Typically, this engine will fire for approximately three minutes. After stage separation, the single upper stage engine, a 5,000 lbf LOX/RP-1 rocket engine called the “NewtonFour” will carry the satellite(s) into orbit. Typically, the second stage will execute multiple burns totaling nearly six minutes.

At the end of this sequence, LauncherOne will deploy our customers’ satellite (or satellites) into their desired orbit. Both stages of LauncherOne will be safely deorbited, while the carrier aircraft will return to a predetermined airport, where it can be quickly prepared for its next flight.

LauncherOne is capable of delivering 300 kilograms to a 500 kilometer Sun-Synchronous Orbit.

  • TO LEARN ABOUT THE VEHICLE’S CAPACITY TO OTHER ORBITS OR OTHER TECHNICAL STATS, CHECK OUT OUR SERVICE GUIDE.

We have built LauncherOne from a blend of classic, proven techniques and tailored high-tech investments. Both the NewtonThree and the NewtonFour are highly reliable liquid rocket engines designed, tested, and built by Virgin Orbit. We are at the forefront of hybrid manufacturing, automated flight safety systems, composite structures, and ultra-responsive launch operations—cutting edge developments that allow us to offer unparalleled service to the small satellite market.

Videos:

Top Copyright Photo: Virgin Orbit Boeing 747-41R N744VG (msn 32745) (Virgin Atlantic colors) LGB (Michael B. Ing). Image: 939465.

Virgin Atlantic:

Bottom Copy Photo: Virgin Atlantic Airways Boeing 747-41R G-VWOW (msn 32745) LHR (Keith Burton). Image: 911204.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Boeing 747-41R G-VWOW (msn 32745) LHR (Keith Burton). Image: 911204.