Virgin Orbit to Launch Satellites From California on Wednesday

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will attempt to make it three in a row by launching a group of commercial and government satellites off the California coast on Wednesday afternoon.

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrier plane is scheduled to take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. PST (21:00–23:30 GMT). The aircraft will drop the LauncherOne booster over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands approximately one hour after takeoff.

Virgin Orbit plans to begin a livestream of the mission at 12:30 p.m. PST (20:30 GMT). The company expects to provide views of LauncherOne’s release and ignition from four cameras onboard Cosmic Girl.

The “Above the Clouds” mission will carry:

  • several U.S. government research and development (R&D) satellites focused on space-based communications and in-space navigation being launched as part of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch Initiative;
  • SatRevolution’s STORK-3 Earth observation nanosatellite, which is party of a constellation that provides medium-resolution photos for the agricultural sector;
  • SatRevolution’s SteamSat-2 nanosatellite, which will demonstrate Stream Space System’s water-fueled thrusters for in-space maneuvering; and
  • Spire Global’s Adler-1 3U CubeSat, which will study the space-debris environment in low Earth orbit.

LauncherOne will place the satellites in a 500 km high circular orbit at 45 degrees inclination.

Spire Global developed Adler-1 in partnership with the Austrian Space Forum and Findus Venture GmbH.

Cosmic Girl will be flown by Eric Bippert, Todd Ericson and Mathew Stannard.

Backup windows for Wednesday’s launch extend through January.

LauncherOne succeeded in placing satellites into orbit twice last year. The rocket failed on its maiden flight test in May 2020 due to a fuel line that broke seconds after first-stage ignition.