Virgin Orbit 747 Flies the Racetrack Over the Pacific Ocean

Credit: FlightAware

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A gloomy Sunday in Mojave didn’t stop Virgin Orbit from getting in some practice for the upcoming second flight test of its LauncherOne rocket.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 conducted a nearly three-hour long practice flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The jetliner flew a racetrack pattern over the Pacific Ocean to practice the course it will fly when it drops the air-launched booster from under its wing later this year.

Credit: FlightAware

FlightAware reports Cosmic Girl logged 1,318 miles (2,021 km) during a flight that lasted 2 hours 55 minutes.

The upcoming launch is set to carry 14 CubeSats for NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program. ELaNa focuses on launching satellites built by university students to bolster science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

The launch will be the second flight test of LauncherOne. During the first flight on May 25, the launch vehicle failed after its first-stage engine burned for only about four seconds before stopping. The company said a fuel line broke.

Virgin Orbit is under some pressure to succeed with this launch. Founder Richard Branson has said the company needs an additional $200 million in investment after having raised $1 billion.