Above the clouds: Another successful launch for Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit flew into 2022 with another successful launch on Jan. 13 with onlookers cheering.

Visitors at Mojave Air and Space Port stood on the Voyager Restaurant patio holding Smart Phones and taking photos as ‘Cosmic Girl’ departed Runway 30 at approximately 1:39 p.m.

One person yelled, “There she is!” All phones and cameras were poised to catch the takeoff at Mojave.

Cosmic Girl lifts off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Photograph by Cathy Hansen)

According to Virgin Orbit’s press release, Cosmic Girl successfully deployed into orbit all seven customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during the ‘Above the Clouds’ mission over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles north of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket ignited and propelled itself towards space, ultimately deploying its payload into a precise target orbit approximately 500 kilometers above the Earth’s surface at 45 degrees inclination. This is the first time that anyone has reached this orbit from the West Coast.

The press release also stated, “The launch was the company’s third successful flight, occurring less than one year from its first mission. Virgin Orbit has now successfully delivered commercial, government, international, and national security satellites to space, including new Above the Clouds customer Spire Global, Inc., and first ever repeat customers: the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program, and Polish company SatRevolution. This launch was awarded to Virgin Orbit through its subsidiary VOX Space by the DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit as part of the DOD Space Test Program’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative.”

“The satellites launched on the company’s latest mission include experiments in space-based communications, space debris detection, and in-space navigation and propulsion, as well as satellites that will serve the global agricultural sector. The launch brings the total number of satellites launched by Virgin Orbit to 26.”

“Because of the unique air-launch system Virgin Orbit has developed, the Above the Clouds mission was launched in an orbit never before directly accessible from the West Coast of the Americas. Rather than launching from a fixed pad on the ground, Virgin Orbit conducts its launches from under the wing of a modified 747 aircraft, and by flying the aircraft further out over the ocean, the company was able to launch on a trajectory no ground-launch rocket could have achieved. That direct injection into the target orbit saved the satellites onboard this mission months of time and kilograms of fuel they might have otherwise spent correcting their orbit from what a landlocked launch site could provide them.”

LauncherOne sits attached to the Cosmic Girl mother ship at the Mojave Air and Space Port prior to take off and launch. (Virgin Orbit photograph)

“Our customers are starting to hear back from their satellites that are checking in from orbit — and for us, that’s what success looks like,” said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO. “It’s a thrill for our team that this mission included our first repeat customers as well as our first ‘last minute ticket’ customers and reached an orbit that no one had ever reached from the West Coast before, all of which confirms the team’s ability to provide top tier launch service anywhere, anytime.

“On top of that, we flew through weather and a cloud layer that would have grounded any other launch I’ve worked on in my career, something only made possible by air-launch and our incredible team. 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,” Hart said.

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