Story at a glance

  • The company’s air-launch system is unique as it utilizes a rocket released from the wing of an aircraft rather than one fixed to a launch pad on the ground.
  • The payloads included several research satellites for the Department of Defense, a Polish company called SatRevolution and a company called Spire Global.
  • The satellites will be used to carry out research on space-based communications, space debris detection, and navigation.

Virgin Orbit deployed seven small satellites into low-Earth orbit, marking the private satellite launch service’s third successful flight in less than a year.  

The company’s air-launch system is unique as it utilizes a rocket released from the wing of an aircraft rather than one fixed to a launch pad on the ground. 

On Thursday afternoon, the company’s modified 747 jet, dubbed “Cosmic Girl,” took flight from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, and released its “LauncherOne” rocket about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands over the Pacific Ocean.  

In mid-air, the rocket ignited and propelled its payload of satellites into orbit approximately 31 miles above the surface of the Earth. Virgin Orbit claims it’s the first time “anyone has reached this orbit from the West Coast.”  


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The technique saved the company months of time and kilograms of fuel that might have been spent on correcting the orbit from a landlocked launch site, according to Virgin Orbit.  

The mission, called “Above the Clouds,” marked the company’s third successful flight and first since going public earlier this month.  

“We can say with confidence that in this new era of regular, frequent, successful missions, we can help our customers and partners use space technology to advance human knowledge and open space for good,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. 

The payloads included several research satellites for the Department of Defense, a Polish company called SatRevolution and a company called Spire Global. The satellites will be used to carry out research on space-based communications, space debris detection, and navigation. 

Virgin Orbit, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is among the several private rocket companies that have emerged in recent years, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.  


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Published on Jan 14, 2022