Virgin Orbit plans to attempt to launch satellites for the first time 

Virgin Orbit – the sister company of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism outfit – will later attempt the second test of its small satellite launcher during an initial attempt, months after it failed. It will also be the first time the company attempts to launch working satellites into space on behalf of NASA.

Virgin Orbit’s airborne rocket-launching system during a previous test. Image: Virgin Orbit

Sometime after 1 PM ET, Virgin Orbit’s customized Boeing 747 will take off from Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in the Mojave desert and ascend 35,000 feet with the satellite launcher attached to its wing. Once it reaches a predetermined location, the rocket is scheduled to fall and ignite and launch the small satellites onboard the rest of the way into orbit says the window will be tweeted for launch to 5 p.m. ET.

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Virgin Orbit Sunday morning that The test is expected to start at 10:30 a.m. PT (1:30 p.m. ET).

There is no live stream of the test, although the company plans to tweet updates throughout the flight. It will make photos and videos available sometime after the test is complete.

VIRGIN ORBIT has been working on its aircraft missile launch system for years.

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Virgin Orbit has been evolving for years This method of launching rockets in the air has carried out increasingly complex flight tests since 2018. However, the first full test of the company’s rocket launch capabilities in May last year did not go entirely as planned. The plane rose correctly, the missile dropped, and the main engine ignited. However, a problem in the liquid-oxygen fuel line prevented the missile from reaching orbit.

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said during a conference call earlier this month that the company has been making changes to those propellant lines and has been in motion since May conducted an “enormous amount of testing” despite the pandemic.

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“Watching [Virgin Orbit] ascend and delve into the details for the occasion, fueling the maturation of the system and doing a pandemic environment is truly amazing to look at”, said Hart.

Aside from technical fixes, another difference between the previous and this test is that for the first time Virgin Orbit is attempting to deliver real commercial payloads to a customer: NASA. The space agency hired Virgin Orbit to supply 10 different small satellites for different Transporting Universities For a full list, see the Virgin Orbit website.

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This mission was scheduled to take place in December but was delayed as some members of the Virgin Orbit launch team had to be quarantined. Hart said Virgin Orbit “did a lot to keep the team safe” prior to today’s launch. A big part of this is having employees work remotely, but for those who need to be on-site, Hart enforces social distancing by having employees use PPE, sanitize rooms, and install air purifiers, according to Orb. “Every single tool you can imagine is out there in the industry, we applied, but we have a team that is eager and focused,” he said.

The attempt at launch was postponed until earlier this month, although this has now been postponed to today’s window a few times. The company tweeted Saturday that the hardware is “in great shape” and the weather is looking favorable.

Virgin Orbit’s approach to launching satellites is vastly different from SpaceX or the other large launch vendors that NASA and others typically use, the company believes this will help relieve the burgeoning market for small satellites. When launched from an airplane in midair, Virgin Orbit’s system doesn’t require such a large rocket or so much fuel as to reduce the cost. The company argues that this is a potentially more flexible system, as it theoretically allows satellite launches from anywhere which a 747 can take off and land.

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(These reasons could be the reason Virgin Orbit has also signed a contract with the Department of Defense. Virgin Orbit also wants to launch missions to Mars. But first Virgin Orbit must show that the system works and that the company can be profitable, supporters like Branson and Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala have sustained it through development so far. The company is now seeking up to $ 200 million in new financing after spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the airborne launch system that it will test again today. be “excited to get the data” that is generated along the way so that you can continue to develop and refine the launch system. He also said that the Virgin Orbit team is “aware that there is a risk as to whether we will reach the final orbit.”

said Virgin Orbit has been “working vigorously and looking at all the details and making sure that we have the best possible chance of reaching orbit” considering there are real satellites. That work has included the help of a research team made up of people from the launch partner NASA, Federal Aviation Administration, Air Force, and industry professionals.

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“We really immersed our engineering team with a new vision to make sure we were basically not drinking our own bathwater,” said Hart.

Update Jan. 17, 11:30 am ET: Adds an updated start time of 1:30 pm ET and a new tweet from Virgin Orbit

Theverge / TechConflict.Com

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