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.

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Virgin Orbit has Raised $1 Billion, Needs $200 Million More

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)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch company needs another $200 million in investment after having already raised $1 billion.

So said the British billionaire during The Wall Street Journal’s recent Tech Live conference. The amount raised is considerably larger than a previous estimate of $700 million.

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Virgin Orbit Continues to Seek $46.3 Million from OneWeb

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)

With OneWeb having emerged from bankruptcy, the satellite broadband company new owners, Bharti Global and the British government, have had to deal with creditors.

Virgin Orbit is one of them. Richard Branson’s launch provider is still trying to collect $46.3 million the company feels it is owned from a deal gone bad.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is Seeking Investors

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)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is look for investors. The company posted the following notice on its website:

Virgin Orbit LLC, (together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, the “Company”), is exploring a possible transaction and has retained LionTree Advisors LLC (“LionTree”) and Perella Weinberg Partners LP (“PWP”) (together, the “Financial Advisors”).

The website includes a link to a password protected presentation that potential investors can review.

Virgin Orbit is developing LauncherOne, a small-satellite booster that is air launched from a modified Boeing 747 airliner.

Virgin Orbit’s first launch attempt failed in late May when the rocket’s engine stopped about five seconds after it began firing. The company is planning another launch attempt later this year.

The travel-heavy Virgin Group has been struggling to fund its companies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Propellant Line Break Caused LauncherOne Failure

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)

SpaceNews reports that Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed on its maiden flight due to a break in a propellant line. CEO Dan Hart revealed the cause of the failure on Wednesday.

“We had a component break in our engine system. It was a high-pressure feed line,” he said. Liquid oxygen “stopped going into the engine and our flight was terminated.”

The company has performed an investigation and identified what needs to be fixed in the engine to strengthen the components that failed. A second LauncherOne rocket is in final integration right now and will be leaving the factory in the next few weeks while modifications to the engine continue. “We’ll be targeting our next flight before the end of the year,” Hart said.

LauncherOne fired for about four seconds before the engine shut down. The rocket had been dropped from a modified Boeing 747 jetliner.

NASA to Release RFI for Astronauts to Fly on New Shepard, SpaceShipTwo

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine floated this idea during the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference back in March. They’re clearly moving forward with it.

Bridenstine has mentioned that NASA needed some sort of plan to certify the vehicles. It will be interesting to see what the space agency will require of Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo before conducting any astronaut training on the suborbital systems.

The vehicles can provide several minutes of continuous weightless as well as experience in rocket-powered acceleration and re-entry.

Astronauts train aboard aircraft flying parabolic arcs that provide about 25 seconds of microgravity at a time. NASA contracts for training with Zero Gravity Corporation, which uses a modified Boeing 727.

Video of Virgin Orbit LauncherOne’s Abbreviated Flight

Nine seconds.

That’s how long the flight of LauncherOne lasted from being dropped from the Boeing 747 to its engine crapping out.

Virgin Orbit explained on its website:

For about 9 seconds after drop, the flight went perfectly. Through some of the most challenging portions of our flight — release, the controlled drop, the rocket’s ignition sequence, and the initial portion of guided, powered flight — every part of our system did exactly as we designed it to do. We have solid data from hundreds of channels and sensors — and in looking at those, we see performance that is well-matched to our predictions and to the extensive data we have from our models and ground tests. This means that we have proved out via flight the foundational principles of our air-launch operations, which is the key thing that separates us from our peers in the industry.

About 9 seconds after drop, something malfunctioned, causing the booster stage engine to extinguish, which in turn ended the mission. We cannot yet say conclusively what the malfunction was or what caused it, but we feel confident we have sufficient data to determine that as we continue through the rigorous investigation we’ve already begun. With the engine extinguished, the vehicle was no longer able to maintain controlled flight — but the rocket did not explode. It stayed within the predicted downrange corridors of our projections and our Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license as the vehicle fell to the ocean, posing no risk to public safety, no danger our aircrew or aircraft, and no significant environmental impact.

There’s more on the website about what the company achieved despite the failure on Monday. There’s lots of data to go over before the next launch attempt.

Virgin Orbit Press Release on LauncherOne Failure

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)

Mojave, Calif., May 25, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, conducted a launch demonstration of its innovative air-launched rocket today in the skies over the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast. The company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.

“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today.  Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind. Virgin Orbit’s decision to begin production of multiple rockets well in advance of this test flight will enable the team to progress to the next attempt at a significantly faster pace, shortly after making any necessary modifications to the launch system.

Video of Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 Takeoff & Landing

Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port on May 25 with a fully fueled LauncherOne booster under its left wing. The launch over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands failed. The aircraft and crew returned safely to Mojave.

Videographer: Kenneth Brown

Panasonic Provides In-flight Connectivity for Virgin Orbit Launches

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (Panasonic PR) — Panasonic Avionics Corporation (Panasonic) has been selected by Virgin Orbit to provide inflight connectivity for its airborne rocket launch platform.

Panasonic’s latest generation high-speed inflight connectivity system has been installed on Cosmic Girl, the modified Boeing 747-400 that serves as the carrier aircraft for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system. Virgin Orbit is currently undergoing final rehearsals for an orbital launch demonstration expected soon.

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Virgin Orbit Scrubs Launch for Sunday

Cosmic Girl with a fueled LauncherOne on approach to Mojave on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

UPDATE: Virgin Orbit will attempt a launch on Monday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. PDT.

Virgin Orbit has scrubbed the maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster that had been planned for Sunday over the Pacific Ocean.

The company tweeted that engineers discovered a problem with a sensor after fueling the booster at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, They drained the fuel and are addressing the problem.

Virgin Galactic has a backup launch date on Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The company has not yet confirmed that it will attempt a launch tomorrow.

LauncherOne will attempt to place an inert mass into orbit.

Ken Brown and I will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing of the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 aircraft.

Virgin Orbit Launch Window Set for Memorial Day Weekend

Closeup on LauncherOne. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — We are extremely excited to announce that the window for our Launch Demo mission starts on Sunday, May 24th, and extends through Monday, May 25th, with an opportunity to launch from 10 A.M. – 2 P.M. Pacific (17:00 – 21:00 GMT) each day.

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Virgin Orbit Maiden Launch Set for Sunday

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne under its wing. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will attempt to air launch its LauncherOne rocket for the first time on Sunday, CNBC reports.

The website says the company’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 will take off with the rocket under its wing from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1 p.m. and head out to the Pacific Ocean.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for updates on Twitter @spacecom.

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