Virgin Orbit has successfully lofted its LauncherOne rocket into space after launching it from a Boeing 747-400.
After reaching space, the vehicle deployed 12 CubeSats at the target orbit, which the company hailed as a milestone in making space access easier and more affordable.
After taking off from the company’s Mojave Air and Space Port on Sunday 17 January, the aircraft flew to a location some 43nm (79.6km) south of the Channel Islands.
“After a smooth release from the aircraft, the two-stage rocket ignited and powered itself to orbit,” says the company.
“At the conclusion of the flight, the LauncherOne rocket deployed 10 CubeSats into the team’s precise target orbit, marking a major step forward for Virgin Orbit in its quest to bust down the barriers preventing affordable and responsive access to space.”
The 12 CubeSats orbited are part of NASA’s Launch Services Program.
The company adds that this is the first time an air-launched, liquid-fuelled rocket successfully reached space.
Today’s sequence of events for #LaunchDemo2 went exactly to plan, from safe execution of our ground ops all the way through successful full duration burns on both engines. To say we’re thrilled would be a massive understatement, but 240 characters couldn’t do it justice anyway. pic.twitter.com/ZKpoi7hkGN— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) January 18, 2021
This was Virgin Orbit’s second attempt to launch a rocket from the 747-400, named Cosmic Girl. A May 2020 attempt resulted in the rocket landing in the Pacific Ocean after a malfunction.
“Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible,” says Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.
“It was so inspiring to see our specially adapted Virgin Atlantic 747, Cosmic Girl, send the LauncherOne rocket soaring into orbit. This magnificent flight is the culmination of many years of hard work and will also unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit. I can’t wait to see the incredible missions Dan and the team will launch to change the world for good.”