Cosmic Girl Will Attempt To Launch LauncherOne Into Orbit on Memorial Day
T-3 days to the return of crewed spaceflight (organized by SpaceX) in America, Virgin Orbit announced to fly its first-ever orbital test launch on Memorial Day, May 25th, 2020.
If it succeeds with the launch test, it will be the second company to ever launch an orbital rocket from midair. The rocket named LauncherOne will be carried by the company’s Cosmic Girl launcher, which is a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. Cosmic Girl will fly for about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the drop point at around 35,000 feet (around 10 km). From there the rocket will be dropped, and ignite its own engine and continue all the way to space. Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, developed a similar air-launched rocket called Pegasus, which first flew in 1990. Pegasus cost several times more than Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.
Virgin Orbit will be monitoring its performance and conditions during the launch test. Will Pomerantz, VP of Special Projects, looks forward to the successful launch after many years of developing and testing:
“You essentially get to a point where you have looked under every rock and verify that there’s nothing more for you to do to verify that the system is ready. That’s what we have done. We’ve gone through an enormous amount of tests, we’ve essentially done everything that we can think of that we should do including fill the rocket up with cryogenics and fuel and pressure and and fly it out to the drop.” — Will Pomerantz
The results of this flight will determine Virgin Orbit’s going-forward strategy. This could include flying one to two more times this year, which is fairly aggressive with regards to other newly developed rockets. Then they will also look to fly around twice as many times in 2021.
Asked about their product-market-fit, CEO Hart pointed out that he doesn’t believe the small satellite industry is still well-served in terms of a range of flexible offerings, noting that rideshare missions often leave spacecraft in less than optimal orbits, where they either just operate in a compromised fashion or have to rely on an in-space bus to carry them the rest of the way. Virgin Orbit aims to be affordable enough that small satellite clients can use it to take them exactly where they need to go. An airplane is essentially a mobile launchpad, enabling rocket launches from many more locations. If there is a thunderstorm, the jet can fly around or over it. And flying over the ocean immediately reduces the risk to people below if the rocket explodes.
Let’s see if Virgin Orbit can fulfill its vision of opening space for everyone!