Virgin Orbit Completes First LauncherOne Captive Carry

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

VICTORVILLE, Calif., 19 November 2018 (Virgin Orbit PR) — This Sunday, a new sight appeared in the baby-blue skies over Southern California: A specially modified 747-400 carrying a 70-foot-long rocket under its wing soared through the air as part of a successful test flight for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne. Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company completed a flawless test flight, proving that its carbon-fiber two-stage rocket works perfectly as a pair with Cosmic Girl, the customized former passenger aircraft that serves as the company’s ‘flying launch pad.’ The successful test puts more air under the wings—and fins—of the company’s plans to reach orbit in early 2019.

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A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Trump Threatens Boeing Air Force One Contract After CEO Criticizes Trade Policies

In what could be a preview of things to come, Donald Trump today threatened The Boeing Company with the cancellation of a $3 billion U.S. Air Force contract to replace the fleet of Air Force One aircraft.

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Smallsat 2016: Updates on Launch Vehicle Development

CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)
CubeSats (Credit: ESA/Medialab)

The Small Satellite 2016 Conference got underway today in Logan, Utah. Although I was not able to make it, I’ve been able to follow the conference via Twitter. A number of small satellite launch companies provided updates on launch vehicles they are developing. There is information below on Firefly Space Systems, Nammo, Rocket Crafters, Rocket Lab, Super Strypi, Vector Space Systems and Virgin Galactic.

Information came from the following Tweeters who are attending the conference:

  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • C. G. Niederstrasser ‏@RocketScient1st
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave.

Enjoy!
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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.

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Updated: Firefly Board Member Sues to Stop Alleged Virgin Galactic “Fishing Expedition”

firefly_space_systems_logoA member of Firefly Space Systems board of directors has filed suit in Los Angeles to overturn an arbitrator’s judgment that he turn documents over to rival Virgin Galactic in a dispute between Virgin and its former vice president of propulsion.

Patrick Joseph (P.J.) King filed the action on Tuesday in a case involving Tom Markusic, who left Virgin Galactic to form Firely with King in early 2014.

“After Dr. Markusic left Galactic, [Richard] Branson sued his ex-employee the the Arbitration, falsely accusing of Dr. Markusic of breaking his former employment agreement by ‘stealing’ what apparently is nothing more than standard open-source technical information which is available in the academic literature, that Galactic claims are someone ‘trade secrets'”, the suit reads.

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ST Aerospace to Overhaul 747 for Virgin Galactic

Cosmic Girl 747 with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Cosmic Girl 747 with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SINGAPORE, 4 December 2015 (ST Aerospace PR) – ST Aerospace, with an established global track record on aircraft maintenance and modifications, now extends its maintenance support from military forces, commercial airlines to the world’s first commercial spaceline. Its US affiliate company VT San Antonio Aerospace will be providing a series of D-level heavy maintenance checks on the Virgin Galactic’s Boeing 747-400 aircraft – the carrier aircraft for its small satellite launch vehicle.

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Virgin Galactic Unveils 747 for LauncherOne Flights

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Galactic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, December 3, 2015 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic introduced the newest addition to its fleet of vehicles today as part of a technical update on its LauncherOne small satellite launch service. The 747-400 commercial jet aircraft, previously operated by Virgin Atlantic under the nickname ‘Cosmic Girl,’ will provide a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle. Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic engineers announced the acquisition of the aircraft while providing an update on LauncherOne development progress.

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Branson’s Latest Prediction: SpaceShipTwo Rollout in February

A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth's horizon can be seen at lower right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth’s horizon can be seen at lower right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic will unveil the second SpaceShipTwo in February with tests to follow.

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LauncherOne.Two: Decoding Virgin Galacticese

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

I was pleased to find myself mentioned in the most recent edition of Charles Lurio’s The Lurio Report (subscription only). He referenced a post I wrote in July about  Virgin Galactic moving to a larger launch vehicle (dubbed LauncherTwo by sources) that would be launched from a modified 747 instead of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

Lurio spoke with Virgin Galactic Vice President of Special Projects Will Pomerantz in a valiant if not entirely successful attempt to clarify what the heck’s going on with the project. Alas, it wasn’t really Charles’ fault; the answers he received were not real clear.

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Pictures from Plane Soggy Saturday


By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The monthly Plane Crazy Saturday open house at the Mojave Air and Space Port took place under decidedly soggy skies today. (Much like the one last month; ah, winter in Mojave! Damn you, Pacific storms!)

The tarmac was filled largely with military planes and one very large jumbo jet that wasn’t part of the show. The United Airlines 747-422 in the distance is the second aircraft destined for use as part of Stratolaunch’s air-launch system. The 495-seat aircraft, which was manufactured in 1997, arrived on Thursday. The other 747 is now sitting in front of the BAE Systems hangar at the other end of the taxiway.

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