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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Virgin Orbit Designs New Mass Producible Ventilator of COVID-19 Patients

Bridge ventilator (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif., March 30, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR — Virgin Orbit has developed a new mass-producible bridge ventilator to help in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Virgin Orbit team has been consulting with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium (BVC), led by the University of California Irvine (UCI) and the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), a group formed to spawn and nurture efforts to build producible, simple ventilators to aid in the current COVID-19 crisis.

Pending clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Virgin Orbit aims to commence production at its Long Beach manufacturing facility in early April, sprinting to deliver units into the hands of first responders and healthcare professionals as soon as possible.

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Video: Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Taxi Test with LauncherOne Attached

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 Conducts Taxi Test with Launcher One

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)

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.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 carries LauncherOne in a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Support equipment for Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft and LauncherOne booster. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft and booster require a significant amount of support equipment as seen in the photo above.

DARPA Launch Challenge Nears End with Modified Rules, One Competitor

The DARPA Launch Challenge is nearing its end with modified rules and only one of three finalists left standing to win $12 million in prize money.

Astra Space will attempt to conduct two launches within days of each other from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The launches will take place from different pads at the spaceport and place satellites into different sun-synchronous trajectories.

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Virgin Orbit Moves Toward First Launch

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne attached. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — The Virgin Orbit team has been firing on all cylinders as we button up our first orbital LauncherOne rocket and make final preparations for our upcoming launch demonstration.

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Report: Virgin Orbit Flight Test Set for This Month

LauncherOne attached to Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Forbes reports that Virgin Orbit plans to conduct a flight test of LauncherOne later this month:

A spokesperson from the company confirmed that Virgin Orbit will perform its first orbital test flight in January. And if all goes well, the company aims to turn around and launch its first customer payload shortly thereafter, likely in February. The customer for that launch is NASA, and Virgin Orbit plans to deliver 10 small satellites from the space agency’s ELaNa project, which works with universities and high schools to put student-designed research missions into space.

We’ll see if they make this schedule. They have been overly optimistic before.

Original Firefly Shareholders Sue Firefly’s Markusic, Polyakov Alleging Fraud

Tom Markusic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.

Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.

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Rocket Lab Moves Headquarters to Long Beach

Electron lifts off with DARPA’s R3D2 satellite. (Credits: Kieran Fanning, Sam Tom)

Rocket Lab is moving its corporate headquarters up the California coastline to the same Long Beach business park that houses one of its main rivals, Virgin Orbit.

The Long Beach Business Journal reports the small satellite launch company is moving into the Douglas Park development from its current home in Huntington Beach. The company has leased 87,605-square-foot building.

Rocket Lab is the third launch provider to move to the park. Virgin Orbit established its operations there in 2015. SpinLaunch signed a lease in Douglas Park two months ago.

Rocket Lab is preparing for the 10th launch of its Electron launch vehicle later this week from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

Virgin Galactic has not yet flown its LauncherOne booster, which is dropped from a modified Boeing 747. SpinLaunch rocket is also still in development.

NASA Selects TriSept to Support New Round of CubeSat Missions

CHANTILLY, Va., December 2, 2019 (TriSept PR) – TriSept Corporation, a leading provider of launch integration, management and brokerage services for commercial and government missions, today announced that it has been selected as a preferred provider to support NASA’s third round of CubeSat missions with dispenser hardware and integration services.

As part of a five year, $18 million NASA indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract, TriSept will be considered for CubeSat mission integration services and dispenser hardware procurement in support of upcoming CubeSat launches through 2025.

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Cornwall Council Approves $13.2 Million Grant for Virgin Orbit Project

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over strenuous environmental protests, the Cornwall Council approved a £10.3 million ($13.2 million) grant to fund improvements at Cornwall Airport Newquay to accommodate air launches by Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit.

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SatRevolution, Virgin Orbit & Polish Universities Join to Launch CubeSat to Mars

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

KATOWICE, Poland, 9 October 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to establish a new consortium to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars. The parties established the consortium at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’ 19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.

The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.

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