Cosmic Girl: Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Supporting Spaceflight

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Today, Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747-400, nicknamed “Cosmic Girl”, successfully completed a pull-up maneuver and simulated drop of what will be satellites launching into space (well – low-earth orbit to be specific). The goal of Virgin Orbit is to make the launch of small satellites more affordable and accessible. Today’s successful trial brings it that much closer.

The aircraft completed another test today. Photo: Virgin Orbit

The final major test

Virgin Orbit calls this latest exercise its “final major test” before its upcoming launch demonstration. According to Tech Crunch, this rehearsal in the form of a “cryogenic captive carry flight,” had everything almost exactly as it would be during a real launch.

This includes “supercooled liquid in the rocket’s fuel tanks”. The key difference is that Virgin Orbit stops short of detaching and firing the rocket’s engines. “The full burn and first orbital payload will be saved for the Launch Demo, which is planned for later this year” Tech Crunch says.

Photos posted to the company’s Instagram account are nothing short of stunning. For avgeeks, it’s great to see an old commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747-400 retire from passenger service and move on to seemingly unimaginable roles such as this one.

Over the course of 2019, the Virgin Orbit team has been working hard to ensure its concept is solid and executes well in practice. On October 25th, the company attached a rocket to the Boeing 747 for the first time.

Nearly a month later, on the 19th of November, the aircraft’s first flight with the rocket was completed, demonstrating to investors, potential customers, and the public, that the aircraft was capable of flying with the rocket attached.

Cosmic Girl

We’ve written on this topic before, but for those who need a refresher, here it is.

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While currently registered as N744VG, the aircraft known as Cosmic Girl was delivered as G-VWOW to Virgin Atlantic in October 2001. In fact, the aircraft’s name comes from its Virgin Atlantic days but it seems rather fitting that of all the Boeing 747s, this one got the mission.

The aircraft carries the rocket under its left wing. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Now at the age of just under 19 years old, Cosmic Girl has a completely new life, carrying out a role that virtually no other Boeing 747s get to perform.

Contract secured with the US Government

Recently, VOX Space, a Virgin space subsidiary dedicated to government launches, landed a valuable new contract with the US Government’s Space Force.

The Space Force contract consists of three launches and is valued at US$35 million. These launches will be carried out for the United States’ Department of Defense Space Test Program-S28, which is a set of technology demonstrations in low Earth orbit. This project will enable “advancements in space domain awareness and communications and informing future developments of the USSF space architecture.”

Do you find the story and progress of Virgin Orbit interesting? Or does it stray too far away from the aviation news we normally write about? Let us know in the comments!

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