Virgin Orbit Sets Holiday Season Launch Window

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

MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Orbit has set a window for its Launch Demo 2 mission. The primary date is Saturday, Dec. 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST. There is a similar backup launch window on Dec. 20.

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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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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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Virgin Orbit Conducts Cryogenic Flight Test with Fueled LauncherOne Booster

Cosmic Girl performs a pitch up maneuver during a flight test on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl’s LauncherOne Cryogenic Captive Carry Flight Test Imminent

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

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.

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Virgin Orbit Subsidiary to Launch 3 Missions for U.S. Space Force

The LauncherOne booster can be seen under the left wing of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., April 10, 2020 (VOX Space PR) — VOX Space, the Virgin Orbit subsidiary which provides responsive and affordable launch services for the U.S. national security community, has been selected to launch three dedicated missions for the U.S. Space Force (USSF), delivering multiple spacecraft to orbit for the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program-S28 (STP-S28). This launch service contract — awarded by the USSF Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) Office in Albuquerque, NM — is the first task order under the Orbital Services Program-4 (OSP-4) Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract. 

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Virgin Orbit Partners to Use Japanese Airport for Launches

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the LauncherOne booster under its wing. Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, which also air launches the Pegasus XL rocket, can be seen in the background. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

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. 

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