Virgin Orbit successfully takes its 747 flying launchpad out for a spin


Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl took to the skies over Southern California on November 18, 2018 carrying a 70-ft-long (21-m) rocket for the first time. The specially modified 747-400 “flying launchpad” with the LauncherOne small-satellite booster under its port wing took off from Victorville, California on an 80-minute test flight designed to assess the take-off, landing, and low-speed handling and performance of the integrated aircraft and carbon-fiber two-stage rocket.

Sunday’s test flight was the first carrying LauncherOne(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

According to Virgin Orbit, Sunday’s test flight by Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company was the first in a series leading up to an actual orbital launch early next year. Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart called it “a picture-perfect flight, and a major step forward in our quest to bring a new capability to small satellite launch.”

The modified passenger aircraft and its rocket cargo are scheduled to carry out more tests over the coming months to gather more flight data on how well the mated systems work, as well as the robustness of the liquid-fueled rocket’s composite design, avionics, and onboard computers. This will culminate in a dead-drop of the rocket without its engine firing to provide additional flight data during free fall. After its initial launch mission, Virgin Orbit plans to carry out several launches per year.

LauncherOne attached to the wing(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The vehicles flew like a dream today,” says Virgin Orbit Chief Pilot Kelly Latimer (Lieutenant Colonel, US Air Force, Retired). “Everyone on the flight crew and all of our colleagues on the ground were extremely happy with the data we saw from the instruments on-board the aircraft, in the pylon, and on the rocket itself. From my perspective in the cockpit, the vehicles handled incredibly well, and perfectly matched what we’ve trained for in the simulators.

Source: Virgin Orbit

Cosmic Girl with undercarriage down(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Cosmic Girl as seen from the chase plane(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LauncherOne is a two-stage rocket(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The test flight took 80 minutes(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The test flight took place over Southern California(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Cosmic Girl is a re-purposed passenger plane(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The flight test crew disembarking(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Cosmic Girl taking off(Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The first orbital mission is scheduled for 2019(Credit: Virgin Orbit)