This Sunday (17), Virgin Orbit successfully completed its first rocket launch into space from a moving plane. The mission placed some small satellites that are part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program into orbit.
The startup’s Boeing 747, dubbed the Cosmic Girl, took off from the Mojave test base in California (USA), carrying the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing, with the cargo from the American space agency. After reaching 10,000 meters of altitude, the aircraft released the rocket.
At 21 meters in length and with two stages, LauncherOne stayed for a few seconds in free fall until it activated the NewtonThree propeller, which took it out of the Earth’s atmosphere (see the images of the launch in the tweet below). According to the company, the vehicle reached low orbit about 10 minutes after getting off the plane.
In its Twitter profile, Virgin Orbit celebrated the success of the flight: “Payloads successfully deployed in our target orbit! We are very, very proud to say that LauncherOne has now completed its first space mission, taking 9 CubeSat into low Earth orbit for our NASA friends. ”
Initial test failed
This was the second time that billionaire Richard Branson’s startup tried to take a rocket into space using an airplane. In the first mission, carried out in May 2020, a problem in the fuel system hindered the launch of LauncherOne, which failed to reach orbit and fell into the sea.
With the success achieved now, the Californian company is already preparing to start the first commercial missions, offering an alternative and cheaper rocket launch system than the conventional one, besides being able to be carried out from any airport.
According to Virgin Orbit, LauncherOne is capable of transporting loads of up to 300 kg into low Earth orbit.