Virgin Orbit, Richard Branson’s company that seeks to launch a rocket from the air, failed its first test in orbit. After flying a modified Boeing 747, the company was able to successfully deploy the LauncherOne, although the mission was terminated prematurely due to rocket failure.
Early on, Virgin Orbit began documenting the test on its Twitter account. The aerospace company shared pictures of Cosmic Girl, the Boeing 747 that launches its LauncherOne from the air. Unlike SpaceX, the company has a different method in which it uses an aircraft as a launch pad.
Confirming a smooth takeoff! Cosmic Girl is officially airborne for our first attempt at an orbital launch demo.
— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) May 25, 2020
After several years of testing, today was the day chosen to attempt the first launch into orbit. Virgin Orbit said the goal of this test was to collect as much data as possible, as well as learn about the launch system.
The company has worked for five years not only on producing high-speed rockets, but also on creating and testing a launch pad. Cosmic Girl is a plane that has had all the extra weight removed, while one of its wings is reinforced to carry the LauncherOne rocket.
One of the most important moments for Virgin occurred in mid 2019, when it managed to launch the rocket on a flight over the Mojave Desert. On that occasion, the Boeing 747 rose to 10,500 meters high and managed to separate the LauncherOne cleanly. This milestone opened the door for planning the next step: a high-altitude launch.
In today’s test the rocket suffered from an anomaly at the beginning of the flight. Virgin Orbit confirmed that they managed to fly Cosmic Girl at high altitude and make a successful separation. The main engine of the LauncherOne ignited, although the failure occurred almost immediately so the mission had to be cancelled.