Air Freight News

UK joins space-launch club as Virgin Orbit rocket blasts off

Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc. fired a rocket toward space from beneath the wing of a Boeing Co. 747 aircraft that took off from southwest England, marking a major milestone in the first-ever orbital launch from Britain or Western Europe.

The company’s LauncherOne rocket is tasked with deploying nine satellites for multiple customers, after being carried aloft by the re-purposed jumbo, Long Beach, California-based Virgin Orbit said in a statement late Monday UK time. The mission is still ongoing. 

The mission from Spaceport Cornwall, named Start Me Up after the Rolling Stones song, will potentially add Britain to the ranks of countries able to launch from their own soil amid burgeoning demand for small satellites. However, Britain still has yet to see a rocket take off vertically from a ground-based launch site.

For Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, the takeoff from the surf town of Newquay also marks a first foray away from its usual launch site in the Mojave Desert, helping to demonstrate the flexibility of its aircraft-based launch model.

The mission saw the 747 “Cosmic Girl” take off at 10:02 p.m. local time before climbing to roughly 35,000 feet, where the rocket was released and then fired up. The satellites are expected to be deployed shortly after the rocket reaches orbit. Virgin had put plans for a pre-Christmas launch on hold amid last-minute snags, but managed to get the mission away in the first of multiple new windows it set out.

Virgin Orbit Chief Executive Officer Dan Hart had said Sunday that UK weather conditions weren’t a major concern given that the rocket launch is made at altitude, though the company was monitoring for crosswinds and potential lightning strikes.

If successful, today’s launch will mark Virgin Orbit’s first launch of the year and the company’s fifth flight to reach orbit. The company performed two launches in 2022, both of which took place out of Mojave.



© Bloomberg
The author’s opinion are not necessarily the opinions of the American Journal of Transportation (AJOT).

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