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.
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.
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 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.
MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Orbit’s first LauncherOne flight failed on Monday due to an anomaly in the booster’s first stage, marking a setback for Richard Branson’s effort to enter the booming small satellite launch industry.
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.
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.
Virgin Orbit completed a cryogenic captive carry flight test with a fueled LauncherOne rocket aboard for the first time, clearing the last hurdle before Richard Branson’s company can conduct the maiden flight of the air-launched booster.
Editor’s Update Mojave, Calif. April 11, 2020 11:35 a.m. PDT
Virgin Orbit has apparently scrubbed a cryogenic captive carry flight test scheduled for today. The Cosmic Girl 747 was scheduled to take off at 10:10 a.m. PDT carrying a LauncherOne fueled with liquid nitrogen.
The aircraft would have flown over the Pacific Ocean west of the Channel Islands before landing back at the Mojave Air and Space Port after a flight test lasting about 1 hour 10 minutes.
The flight, described in a Virgin Orbit mission update below, is the last major milestone before the company attempts the maiden flight of LauncherOne.
It was the third scheduled flight of Cosmic Girl scrubbed this week. Virgin Orbit had filed flight plans for Tuesday and Friday. It appears the company has rescheduled the flight for Sunday morning.
A description of the planned flight test from Virgin Orbit follows.
OITA, Japan/LONG BEACH, Calif., April 2, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, has announced a new partnership with Oita Prefecture to bring horizontal launch to Japan.
With the support of regional partners ANA Holdings Inc. and the Space Port Japan Association, Virgin Orbit has identified Oita Airport as its preferred pilot launch site — yet another addition to the company’s growing global network of horizontal launch sites — in pursuit of a mission to space from Japan as early as 2022.
Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 conducted a slow-speed taxi test down the runway with a fueled LauncherOne under its wing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on March 5, 2020. The test covered about 2 miles on runway 12-30.
The taxi test was a precursor to a flight test with a fueled booster for Sir Richard Branson’s launch company. LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites after being dropped from the modified Boeing airliner. Virgin Orbit plans to conduct a flight test of the booster for later this year.
Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft conducted a low-speed taxi test down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday afternoon.
The aircraft taxied down the runway, turned around and returned. The Boeing 747 was then towed back to a concrete pad where it has sat for the last several weeks undergoing preparations for a taxi test and captive carry flight.
Virgin Orbit has said that it needed to do a taxi test with a full fueled LauncherOne prior to doing a captive carry flight. It is not clear whether the booster was fueled. However, a hazardous operations notice to airmen (NOTAM) was not posted prior to the taxi test.
LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites by air launching them over the ocean. A flight test of the booster is scheduled for later this year.
The aircraft and booster require a significant amount of support equipment as seen in the photo above.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (RAF PR) — The Royal Air Force and Virgin Orbit have selected the RAF pilot to be seconded to the company’s ground-breaking small satellite launch programme.
The partnership between the RAF and Virgin Orbit was unveiled at the Air and Space Power conference in July. Following a tough selection process, Air Vice-Marshal Simon ‘Rocky’ Rochelle and Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart have announced that Flight Lieutenant Mathew ‘Stanny’ Stannard had been selected.