Branson’s Virgin Orbit Completes First Successful Satellite Launch Science & Tech News
Sir Richard Branson’s satellite launcher Virgin Orbit has successfully completed its first mission to deliver NASA satellites into space.
The payload of 10 CubeSats was put into orbit on Sunday by the company’s launched rocket, which was carried to an altitude of approximately 11 km by a modified Boeing 747-400.
At this altitude, the Launcher One rocket detached itself from under the aircraft’s left wing and fell towards the sea for a few moments before the engine ignited – and pushed the vehicle towards orbit.
“Looks like the blue sky turned black!” We are very excited to share this new video of our Launch Demo 2 flight. The adrenaline is still flowing after doing that flight and shipping satellites for nine different ones @NASA and university teams exactly on their target path. pic.twitter.com/nVX21hXywi
– Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) January 18, 2021
Launched from the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, with the drop zone over the Pacific Ocean, the mission made LauncherOne the first liquid-powered, horizontally-launched spacecraft to ever enter orbit.
The tiny satellites were put into low-earth orbit at an altitude of about 500 km, prompting Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart to declare, “A new gateway to space has just opened.”
Mr. Hart praised the company’s employees, adding, “That LauncherOne successfully entered orbit today is a testament to the talent, precision, drive and ingenuity of this team.”
Secretary of State for Business, Kwasi Kwarteng, congratulated the company on its launch, saying: “The same technology will be used to enable horizontal small satellite launches from the Cornwall spaceport – a boost for jobs and the UK space sector.”
There follows one aborted landmark test of sister company Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane in December, although everything became clear a minute before takeoff.
Although the spaceplane was successfully raised to an altitude of approximately 15 km, it did not decouple from its mother ship as planned.
Virgin Galactic is ultimately aiming to operate space tourism flights by next year and already has more than 600 customers for the USD 250,000 (£ 189,000) seats – including Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio.