The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, January 18, 2021 1:00 am

Rocket launched from jet hits space

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit reached space Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said.

A 70-foot-long LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later and soared toward space.

The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats developed and built as part of a NASA educational program involving U.S. universities.

The launch occurred after the Boeing 747-400 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out over the Pacific Ocean to a drop point beyond the Channel Islands.

“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!” Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers.”

The rocket's upper stage was scheduled to coast for a period and then relight to circularize the orbit before deploying the satellites.

The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly livestreamed.

Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.

Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its rockets was nearing launch Sunday.

Virgin Orbit touts the flexibility of its capability to begin its missions by using airports around the globe.

Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020.


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