Virgin Orbit launched its LauncherOne rocket into orbit for the first time today. The successful demonstration mission carried a handful of satellites and will attempt to place them in low earth orbit on behalf of NASA. This is a critical milestone for the small satellite launcher. For the first time, the company has shown that its hybrid carrier / small payload orbital delivery rocket is performing as intended, which should prompt the company to go into commercial operation of its launch system very soon.
This is the second attempt to enter orbit for Virgin Orbit after a first attempt in late May ended with the LauncherOne missile shortly after taking off from the & # 39; Cosmic Girl & # 39; carrier aircraft, a modified Boeing 747 that took off transported, an automatic safety shutdown of their engines initiated the rocket at its launch altitude. The company said it learned a lot from this attempt, including identifying the failure that caused the failsafe engine to shut down and correcting it before today's mission.
Virgin & # 39; s Cosmic Girl launched just before 2:00 p.m. EDT and released LauncherOne from its wing at around 2:40 p.m. EDT. LauncherOne had a "clean break" as intended and then ignited its own rocket engines and quickly accelerated to the point where it was under maximum aerodynamic pressure (referred to in the aerospace industry as max q). LauncherOne's main engine was shut down after the burn and the payload was disconnected, crossed the Karman Line and launched into space for the first time.
It reached orbit around 2:49 p.m. EDT and will release its payload of small satellites in approximately 30 minutes. We will update this post to provide the results of this part of his mission later. However, this is already an important milestone and a huge achievement for the Virgin Orbit team.
Virgin Orbit's unique value proposition in the small launch market is that it can take off and land in the air from traditional runways thanks to its carrier aircraft and rocket launch approach. This should provide flexibility in terms of starting locations and enable better responsiveness to customer needs in terms of regions and destination orbit deliveries.
In 2017, Virgin Orbit was spun off from Virgin Galactic to focus solely on launching light payload orbitals. Virgin Galactic then devoted itself entirely to its own mission of providing commercial human spaceflight. Virgin Orbit itself founded its own subsidiary called VOX Space earlier this year, which LauncherOne plans to use to bring small satellites into orbit specifically for the US national security market.