Virgin Orbit has announced that the launch window for their Launch Demo Mission starts May 14 and extends through May 25.
The opportunity to launch runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., PDT, on both days.
If everything goes according to plan, the companies 747 carrier aircraft – Cosmic Girl – will take off from Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California’s High Desert, fly out over the Pacific, and release the two-stage, orbit rocket LauncherOne. LauncherOne wil then ignite its engine in mid-air for the first time.
The Launch Demo marks the apex of a five-year-long development program.
“On our journey to open up space for everyone we’ve conducted hundreds of hot fires of our engines and our rocket stages, performed two dozen test flights with our carrier aircraft, and conducted countless other tests of every bit of the system we could test on the ground,” said the company in a May 20 release.
To launch from the Earth into space involves thousands of components all functioning as planned, while controlling high energy and flying at incredibly fast speeds. The vehicle’s structures must be robust enough to tolerate traveling at up to 18,000 mph without disintegrating; the temperatures and pressures of its propellants can’t be too high or too low; every internal valve must click open and closed in perfect synchronicity … There’s a long list of factors that need to line up in order to make it all the way.
“We’re mindful of the fact that for the governments and companies who have preceded us in developing spaceflight systems, maiden flights have statistically ended in failure about half of the time,” said the company. “In the future, the goal of our launches will be to deploy satellites for a new generation of space-based services. For this Launch Demo, though, our goal is to safely learn as much as possible and prove out the LauncherOne system we’ve worked so hard to design, build, test and operate.”
When the Newton Three engine ignites, it will be the first time lighting an orbital-class, liquid-fueled, horizontally-launched vehicle in flight. If LauncherOne reaches an altitude of 50 miles on this mission, it will be the first time this kind of launch system has reached space.
“We’ll continue the mission for as long as we can,” said Virgin Orbit. “The longer LauncherOne flies, the more data we’ll be able to collect. Should we defy the historical odds and become one of those exceedingly rare teams to complete a mission on first attempt, we will deploy a test payload into an orbit, take our data, and then quickly de-orbit so as not to clutter the heavens.
“Regardless of the ultimate conclusion of this Launch Demo, we’re excited to learn as much as we can.”