Virgin Orbit reaches space to kick off its commercial launch service
[July 4, 2021: Nick Lavars]
Virgin Orbit has followed on from its first trip to space back in January with a mission that marks the beginning of its commercial satellite launch service. The company's Cosmic Girl mothership and LauncherOne rocket successfully carried seven CubeSats into orbit on Wednesday, which were safely deployed soon after.
Through years of development and test flights, Virgin Orbit has been working hard to get its responsive launch service off the ground. Its approach involves using a modified 747 that can launch from conventional airports to carry its LauncherOne rocket into the air, releasing it at high altitude and then firing up the rocket's engines to soar into orbit with a customer's payload in tow.
The company first reached space in January this year on its second attempt, placing 10 CubeSats into low-Earth orbit for NASA. This demonstration flight paved the way for the official commencement of commercial services, which finally materialized through Wednesday's mission called Tubular Bells.
Packed aboard the LauncherOne rocket were seven more CubeSats from the US Department of Defense, the Royal Netherland Air Force and Polish space company SatRevolution. The Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft took off from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, before LauncherOne separated and blazed its own trail into space.
After the rocket fairing halves were jettisoned and the CubeSats were released, Virgin Orbit's mission control soon confirmed they had reached their target orbits. Cosmic Girl then came safely down to land on the runway.
A stream of the entire Tubular Bells mission can be seen below.
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