Virgin Plans To Launch Satellites From A Boeing 747 Next Month

With the help of a former Virgin Atlantic 747-400, Virgin Orbit is planning its next orbital launch for June. The mission will see the company launching satellites for the US Department of Defense and the Royal Netherlands Air Force, among other clients. Let’s take a look at this exciting mission.

The company’s second launch demonstration took place in late January, successfully deploying payloads for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP). Photo: Virgin Orbit

The next rocket is fully assembled

Now that the company has shown the world its ability to launch payloads into space, Virgon Orbit is wrapping up its “Launch Demo” program. Now, the company is moving into another mission, one it has named “Tubular Bells, Part One.”

“At this very moment, the rocket that will carry our next customers to space is fully assembled, and in the coming days we’ll ship it out to our Mojave test site for prelaunch operations. As all this is now familiar work, our team has been able to operate at a whole new level of efficiency and precision.” – Virgin Orbit

A look at the rocket that will be used in the next mission. Photo: Virgin Orbit

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Tubular Bells, Part One

Very soon, Virgin Orbit will conduct its next orbital launch. The company says that its efforts are on track for June. This, the company says, is much faster than what others have achieved in the past.

“Historically, the space industry has been slow to ramp up from early tests to the start of commercial service. Thanks to a world-class team and our fully operational, cutting-edge factory, Virgin Orbit is breaking that tradition.”

Customers working with Virgin Orbit on this mission are as follows:

  • The US Department of Defense, which is launching three CubeSat sets as part of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI) Initiative.
  • The Royal Netherlands Air Force, which is launching the Netherlands’ first military satellite, a CubeSat called BRIK II.
  • SatRevolution, which is launching the first two optical satellites, STORK-4 and STORK-5, of the company’s 14-satellite STORK constellation.

Virgin Orbit says that the launch will be conducted from “what is currently a bare concrete pad” at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The target orbit for the payload is 500km, “circular orbit at 60 degrees inclination.”

Cosmic Girl will continue its service

It was about six years ago that Virgin Atlantic’s “Cosmic Girl” was retired from regular, earthly passenger service. Withdrawn from use in October 2015, G-VWOW headed to San Antonio for storage before re-registered in the US days later as N744VG under Virgin Galactic.

“It was amazing seeing the modified 747 looking so different from her days as part of our Virgin Atlantic fleet. It’s the ultimate upcycling!” – Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group (2018)

A look at Cosmic Girl being fitted with a rocket. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Cosmic Girl’s configuration of 386 passenger seats (48 business, 32 premium economy, and 306 economy) was stripped clean, its interior refitted and modified for its new and exciting role.

For those new to the work of Virgin Orbit, the former Virgin Atlantic 747 is the vehicle responsible for taking the rocket, “LauncherOne,” to an altitude where it can be launched, propelling its payload of satellites up into orbit. Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson notes that Cosmic Girl is “the first 747 in history that has been converted to launch rockets.”

Have you been tracking the progress of Virgin Orbit’s work? Will you be following the progress of the Tubular Bells mission? Let us know in the comments.