L-3 Modifying Virgin Galactic’s Cosmic Girl 747 to Launch Satellites

Virgin Galactic Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WACO, Texas, March 16, 2016 (L-3 PR) – L-3 and Virgin Galactic announced today that Virgin Galactic’s 747-400 aircraft, which serves as an airborne launch pad for its LauncherOne small satellite launch service, has arrived at L-3’s Platform Integration facilities and is entering into the next phase of its modification process.

L-3 was competitively selected for the modification work on the dedicated mothership for the LauncherOne program. In conjunction with Virgin Galactic, L-3 has been performing engineering work on the modification project since 2015.

The aircraft, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, completed a heavy maintenance check prior to its arrival at L-3’s facilities. Once L-3’s modifications are complete, Cosmic Girl will be able to carry the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing, partially leveraging the position frequently used by 747s to ferry additional jet engines. L-3’s modifications will mainly involve strengthening the wing to carry the LauncherOne rocket.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson announced in December 2015 that the aircraft had been added to Virgin Galactic’s fleet of air and space vehicles. The company selected the 747-400 due to its robust carrying capacity, operational flexibility, long range, ability to operate in many kinds of weather, global pool of talented maintenance support personnel, robust spare parts supply chain, and its lengthy and impressive track record of reliable operations. As part of that history, 747s have supported a variety of air-launch and ferrying missions, such as the Space Shuttle Enterprise test flight program, NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft program, the Pratt & Whitney flying test bed, and ferry flight of the X-45 Phantom Ray.

Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides said, “Air launch allows us to offer rapid, responsive service that meets the schedules and business needs of our customers. Leveraging the extensive technical expertise at L-3 for 747 modifications will enable rapid delivery of the aircraft to our launch operations team at Virgin Galactic.”

L-3 Platform Integration is no stranger to the space industry, with experience on several important projects, including integration of the massive SOFIA airborne observatory. L-3 also has deep familiarity with the 747 airframe, having conducted modifications for major engine OEMs, NASA and private customers.

“It is exciting to have the opportunity to apply L-3’s engineering expertise and versatility in systems integration to Virgin Galactic’s pioneering work in creating the world’s first spaceline,” said Jim Gibson, sector president of L-3 Aircraft Systems, which includes Platform Integration. “From our flight sciences and aerospace engineers to our aircraft technicians, L-3’s team looks forward to collaborating with Virgin Galactic in helping them achieve their goals on this unique program.”


Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline. Founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, Virgin Galactic aims to open access to space to change the world for good. Virgin Galactic is developing reliable, affordable, and frequent services both for human spaceflight and satellite launch. To launch the small satellite revolution, Virgin Galactic is developing LauncherOne, a flexible launch service for commercial and government-built satellites. LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, and will be air launched from a dedicated 747-400 carrier from various locations. To revolutionize human spaceflight, Virgin Galactic is testing the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, a reusable space launch system. To date, 700 men and women from more than 50 nations — greater than the total number of humans who have ever been to space — have reserved places to fly to space with Virgin Galactic. SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, are manufactured and tested in Mojave, California by Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing wing, The Spaceship Company. Commercial operations will be based in New Mexico at Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.


L-3 Platform Integration has more than 30 years of experience as an aircraft systems integrator for programs including maritime surveillance, advanced communications, avionics modernization and special-mission aircraft for military, commercial and OEM customers.

Headquartered in New York City, L-3 (parent company of L-3 Platform Integration) employs approximately 38,000 people worldwide and is a leading provider of a broad range of communication and electronic systems and products used on military and commercial platforms. L-3 is also a prime contractor in aerospace systems. The company reported 2015 sales of $10.5 billion. To learn more about L-3, please visit the company’s website at www.L-3com.com.