- Virgin Orbit launched its first rocket to successfully reach Earth orbit on Sunday.
- The rocket launched from a modified Boeing 747 and carried 10 small satellites for NASA.
- “A new gateway to space has just sprung open!” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said.
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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launched its first rocket to successfully reach Earth orbit on Sunday, eight months after its previous attempt failed.
The next step is using the rocket for commercial services, the company said.
Rather than launching the rocket from a traditional launch pad, Virgin Orbit used an “air launch” from under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
The rocket brought 10 small satellites sponsored by NASA into orbit.
The rocket had “for Eve” printed on the side as a tribute to Eve Branson, Richard Branson’s mother, who passed away earlier this month.
—Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) January 18, 2021
The converted jumbo jet, named Cosmic Girl, launched the LauncherOne rocket while flying over the Pacific Ocean, just under an hour after it departed from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port.
The 70-foot, two-stage rocket then ignited its engine and reached low-Earth orbit at just before 12 p.m. PST.
“Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers,” Virgin Orbit tweeted. “Even the folks on comms are trying really hard not to sound too excited.”
Cosmic Girl had already flown more than 8,000 flights, carrying about 2.5 million passengers, since it was first procured by Virgin Atlantic in 2001. The jet and its crew landed safely back at Mojave later that afternoon.
The 10 satellites, or CubeSats, launched into orbit were part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, and nearly all were designed, built, and tested by American universities.
“A new gateway to space has just sprung open!” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a press release.
“Even in the face of a global pandemic, we’ve maintained a laser focus on fully demonstrating every element of this revolutionary launch system.”
“Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible,” Branson added, calling it “the culmination of many years of hard work.”
Following the successful test launch, the company will officially transition into commercial service for its next mission, it said. Customers who have already booked launches with Virgin Orbit include the US Space Force, the UK Royal Air Force, and Swarm Technologies.
The company’s first test launch in May 2020 successfully dropped a rocket from a jumbo jet and ignited it, but its launch failed after an onboard computer lost connection.