Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the failure of the first demonstration flight of its air-launched missile system, the company said.
A 70 foot long LauncherOne rocket was released from under the wing of a Boeing 747 transport plane off the coast of Southern California, it ignited moments later and flew into space.
The two-stage rocket was carrying a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats, which were developed and built as part of a NASA education program involving US universities.
The launch took place after the take-off of the Boeing 747-400 from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew over the Pacific Ocean to a release point beyond the Channel Islands.
“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!” Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Any team members who don’t have mission control right now are absolutely freaking out.” The rocket’s upper stage was programmed to coast for a period and then re-ignite to circle orbit before deploying the satellites.
Flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly broadcast in live streaming.
Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which can range in size comparable to a toaster to a home refrigerator.
Competitor Rocket Lab, also based in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of his rockets was approaching launch on Sunday.
Virgin Orbit promotes the flexibility of its ability to start its missions using airports around the world. Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020. The rocket was released and ignited, but only flew briefly under power before it stopped pushing. The lost payload was just a test satellite.
The company later said an investigation found there was a breach in a high-pressure line that was carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first stage combustion chamber.
Virgin Orbit is separate from Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Branson to transport passengers on suborbital hops where they will experience the sensations and sights of space flight.
Virgin Galactic plans to begin commercial operations in southern New Mexico this year.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)
- Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on the 2nd attempt