MAY 22, 2020–In a surprising twist of events, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne vehicle has had its first flight scheduled for Sunday, May 24, with a window extending to May 25th, with an opportunity to launch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific daily.
The Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft will take off from Mojave Air and Space Port, fly out over the Pacific Ocean, and release the two-stage orbital rocket.
LauncherOne and the Launch Demo mission marks the culmination of a five-year development program, full of hundreds of rocket fire tests, over 20 test flights of Cosmic Girl, and “countless other tests of every bit of the system.
As Virgin Orbit puts it, “launching from the Earth to space is mind-bogglingly difficult.” Their solution to the orbital problem is the LauncherOne vehicle. LauncherOne is a rocket designed to compete in the small-sat commercial market, lifting 300 kg (600 lb) satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit, to compete with rockets like Electron.
Unlike Electron, LauncherOne does not take off from a launchpad. The LauncherOne vehicle is attached to the left wing of the Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400. The plane flies out over the coast of Los Angeles, and then pitches up 25 degrees, and drops the rocket.
Four seconds later, the NewtonThree engine aboard LauncherOne ignites, accelerating the vehicle from 550 mph to 8,000 mph (3,600 m/s). After a 3 minute burn, the first stage separates. The second stage, powered by a NewtonFour engine, ignites, burning for a total of 6 minutes over multiple burns, accelerating the vehicle to orbital velocity – 17,500 mph (7820 m/s).
Another large benefit of LauncherOne is that it can easily be deployed anywhere with a tiny footprint – the vehicle’s infrastructure can fit entirely within Cosmic Girl‘s parking spot. It only takes a team of 20 technicians to ready the 70-foot rocket for launch, including the four crew of Cosmic Girl. Due to this, LauncherOne flights can still continue – even with social distancing.
If possible, Space Scout will attempt to cover the launch. For more information, follow Virgin Orbit at (@Virgin_Orbit). Go LauncherOne, Go Cosmic Girl, and Go Virgin Orbit!