Today was a great day for Virgin Orbit. The company launched its Tubular Bells: Part One mission in the morning, California time, carrying payloads to orbit. This was the first commercial service for Virgin Orbit, as its Boeing 747 dubbed “Cosmic Girl” helped launch payloads for three customers from three different countries.
Virgin Orbit’s mission on June 30th
On the final day of June, Virgin Orbit debuted its first commercial service. Cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbit’s special Boeing 747 launching rockets into space, took off successfully at 06:58 local time from Mojave Air and Space Port (MHV) in California.
The plane was in the air for an hour and a half and successfully landed at 08:31 local time back at Mojave, having completed its mission over the Pacific Ocean.
The jet took off and headed southwest, over the Pacific Ocean. Once it reached the drop site, the airplane flew in a looping “racetrack” pattern. With all systems looking good and final checks completed, the crew initiated the terminal count auto sequence.
At this point, LauncherOne’s computers took control and were cleanly separated from Cosmic Girl. NewtonThree, LauncherOne’s first stage engine, successfully ignited. From then on, the launch proceeded as planned, and it blasted the satellites out of this world.
This comes about five months after the successful Launch Demo 2 mission. That happened on January 17th, 2021. LauncherOne deployed 10 NASA-sponsored spacecraft into Low Earth Orbit during that mission.
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Virgin Orbit works with both governmental and private organizations. One of the three customers on today’s flight was the US Department of Defense Space Test Program. Their payload consisted of four R&D satellites. The mission, called STP-27VP, was awarded to Virgin Orbit via the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI) from the Defense Innovation Unit.
RALI is a project intended to accelerate the procurement of commercial launch capabilities. It is a US governmental program and covers missions to Low Earth Orbit for objects like satellites.
The second payload was two 3U CubeSats, STORK-4 and STORK-5, from a Polish satellite firm. The firm is called SatRevolution. These were optical spacecraft and were the first to be launched in what eventually will be a 14-satellite constellation. This satellite constellation will be tasked with collecting multispectral medium-resolution imagery. This will help both the agricultural and energy industries.
The final payload is also European, coming from the Netherlands. It is BRIK-II. This is a special satellite, as it is the first military satellite ever launched by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. This was built and integrated by the Innovative Solutions in Space (ISIS). The 6U CubeSat is a testbed for various communications experiments to support operations by the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
Our CEO, @JeroenRotteveel, joined the Dutch (Air Force) delegation to Mojave, California, to see the final preparations and launch of #BRIKII on board the @VirginOrbit #LauncherOne rocket!#TubularBells @Kon_Luchtmacht @Defensie #ISILAUNCH28 pic.twitter.com/dL8pe2r9Ek
— ISISPACE Group (@isis_space) June 30, 2021
Cosmic Girl is a modified Boeing 747-400. Formerly flying for Virgin Atlantic, the plane is now over at Virgin Orbit, where it serves an important role.
The Boeing 747 now helps launches rockets for Virgin Orbit. The first launch was planned for the end of May 2020. That, unfortunately, was not successful. Virgin orbit continued to work on the launch and successfully launched on January 17th, 2021.
Virgin Orbit wants to help expand the frontiers of space to connect more communities and people. The current focus is on small satellite operations, with a focus on research-based satellites.
In the future, the company wants to continue to scale up its launch rates and work on building the next generation of space technology out of this world while also bringing new space players onto the playing field.
What do you make of today’s mission? Let us know in the comments!