Spaceflight Insider

Virgin Orbit successfully completes carry test of LauncherOne

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl, a 747-400 takes the LauncherOne rocket on it’s first integrated carry test. Photo Credit : Virgin Orbit

On Nov. 18 2018, Virgin Orbit completed its first successful carry test of the LauncherOne system. LauncherOne is an air launched two-stage rocket that is designed to be able to carry small satellites into low-Earth orbit.

Once operational, the aircraft will take the LauncherOne vehicle to an altitude of 35,000 feet (11 kilometers) where it will be released at its designated launch point. If things go as advertised, the two-stage rocket will take the payload the rest of the way using its Newton3 and Newton 1 engines.

The company is owned by Sir Richard Branson who also owns Virgin Galactic, another aerospace company which plans to send paying customers to the tune of about $200,000 per seat.

The LauncherOne rocket, carried by its 747-400 ferry aircraft dubbed Cosmic Girl, flew the test over Victorville, which is located in California. The test flight lasted for about 80 minutes. This allowed the flight crew to assess take-off, landing, as well as low-speed handling and performance characteristics of the integrated launch system.

In a press release issued by Virgin Orbit, Chief Pilot Kelly Latimer (Lt. Col, US Air Force, Ret.) stated, “The vehicles flew like a dream today. Everyone on the flight crew and all of our colleagues on the ground were extremely happy with the data we saw from the instruments on-board the aircraft, in the pylon, and on the rocket itself. From my perspective in the cockpit, the vehicles handled incredibly well, and perfectly matched what we’ve trained for in the simulators.”

Several more test flights of Cosmic Girl will be conducted, some with LauncherOne attached, and some without. These tests should prove out the robustness of the aircraft to perform in varying conditions as well as to check out the carbon-fiber LauncherOne rocket, it’s lightweight avionics and flight computers. This round of testing will culminate in a drop test of the rocket from the aircraft, without ignition of the rocket, to test the rocket’s performance while it free falls through the atmosphere.

Testing of the LauncherOne integrated system has been moving along at a rapid pace with the first mating of the rocket to the aircraft having occurred a little more than a month ago. High speed taxi tests were completed just a week prior to the ferry flight. Virgin Orbit expects to make its first launch into space tin early 2019. This should be followed by more trips to orbit. Construction on rockets to support those initial missions has already began in the company’s Long Beach California manufacturing facility.

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, capped the day by saying, “I’m extremely proud of Kelly, the flight crew, and all of our hard-working engineering and operations teams. Their professionalism really shone through today, with our rocket and our plane up in the skies on a beautiful California day. There’s still important work to do, but I know our team and our customers were all thrilled to see us taking this important step forward.”

The LauncherOne team poses in front of Cosmic Girl. Photo Credit : Virgin Orbit

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Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.

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