by Cathy Hansen, special to Aerotech News
Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, said, “Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible. It was so inspiring to see our specially adapted Virgin Atlantic 747, ‘Cosmic Girl,’ send the LauncherOne rocket soaring into orbit.”
“This magnificent flight is the culmination of many years of hard work and will also unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit. I can’t wait to see the incredible missions Dan and the team will launch to change the world for good.”
At 10:38 a.m., PST, Jan. 17, “Cosmic Girl” gracefully lifted from runway 30 at Mojave Air and Space Port and flew into clear blue skies on a mission to launch a commercial payload for NASA. The payload consisted of 10 small satellites called “CubeSats” designed and built by researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett, Calif., and an assortment of universities around the United States.
LauncherOne, a liquid fueled rocket, was released from under the left wing of the modified 747 over the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California at 30,000 feet.
At 11:50 a.m., PST, Virgin Orbit announced in a tweet — “LauncherOne has reached orbit!”
“A new gateway to space has just sprung open! That LauncherOne was able to successfully reach orbit today is a testament to this team’s talent, precision, drive, and ingenuity,” said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit president and CEO. “Even in the face of a global pandemic, we’ve maintained a laser focus on fully demonstrating every element of this revolutionary launch system. That effort paid off today with a beautifully executed mission, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Pilot in Command, Kelly Latimer and Todd Ericson are both distinguished U.S. Air Force veterans who both graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Latimer is a former combat veteran and retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. She was the first ever female research pilot to join the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.
She previously worked with Virgin Galactic and is presently the pilot for Virgin Orbit, flying the modified 747, “Cosmic Girl.”
She flew the T-38, T-34, Lockheed Martin C-141B Starlifter, C-17 Globemaster III, 747 Shuttle Carrier aircraft and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy 747SP (SOFIA).
Ericson brings 23 years of military and aviation safety experience to his career, including service as the Chief of Safety for the U.S. Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, where he was responsible for test, ground, weapons and flight safety for all U.S. Air Force experimental and developmental test programs. Todd also served as Operations and Maintenance Group Commander for the Air Force, where he directed performance and safety for more than 600 personnel engaged in flight operations and maintenance for 21 diverse aircraft types.
Ericson amassed over 230 combat hours in the F-16 during Operation Allied Force where he earned seven Air Medals. He is a 2011 distinguished graduate from Air Force Air War College where he was awarded Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies and won the General Charles Horner Award. He has logged more than 8,500 flight hours in over 90 diverse aircraft types.