The Virgin Orbit 747, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, took off from California around 10:30 AM PDT with the missile, called the LauncherOne, located below the plane’s left wing. The aircraft flew over the Pacific Ocean before the missile was launched, releasing the LauncherOne and allowing it to operate its rocket engine and propel itself to over 17,000 mph, fast enough to begin orbiting the Earth.
The missile flew a group of small satellites on behalf of NASA’s educational launch program for nanosatellites, or the ELaNa program, which allows high school and college students to design and assemble small satellites that NASA then pushes to launch into space. The nine small satellites that Virgin Orbit flew on Sunday included a temperature monitoring satellite from the University of Colorado in Boulder, a satellite that studies how fine particles collide in space from the University of Central Florida, and an experimental satellite to detect radiation from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.
About four hours after takeoff on Saturday, Virgin Orbit confirmed in a tweet that all satellites “have been successfully deployed in our target orbit.”
The successful mission makes Virgin Orbit the third company it dubbed “New Space” – startups hoping to reform the traditional industry with innovative technologies – to reach orbit, after SpaceX and Rocket Lab. The success also paves the way for Virgin Orbit to begin satellite launches for a group of customers who have already lined up, including NASA, military companies and private sector companies that use the satellites for commercial purposes.
“Launching from Earth into space is very difficult,” the company said after the 2020 launch attempt.
“We are grateful and fortunate that most of our teammates have since liquidated the preventive quarantine, allowing us to go ahead with pre-launch operations,” the company said on December 31, despite tougher measures to protect health. And the safety of our team. “
Virgin Orbit, like other space technology companies in the United States, is allowed to continue operations throughout the pandemic because the government designated the space sector as part of the country’s “critical infrastructure” in March. As one industry group argued, the sector’s commercial activity is also intertwined with critical US national security projects and NASA programs.