The Boeing 747 is an aircraft design that is over 50 years old. While the four-engined queen of the skies is starting to lose favor with airlines, it is gaining fans elsewhere. Now, Virgin Orbit hopes to use a Boeing 747, aptly named ‘Cosmic Girl’, as a launch bed for space-bound rockets.
The Virgin Group is no stranger when it comes to aerial activities. From Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Galactic, they have interests in advancing both air and space travel. The latest venture, Virgin Orbit, aims to see rockets launched into space from the atmosphere.
What’s the point?
You may be thinking that as we can already launch rockets into space, what’s the point of launching rockets from an aircraft? Well, according to Virgin Orbit, using the Boeing 747 will allow “flexible, routine and low-cost launch services for small satellites via the LauncherOne system.”
It takes a lot of energy to push a rocket straight up through the atmosphere from ground level. The thinking behind Virgin Orbit is to use an aircraft to carry the rocket for the first part of its journey. By the top of the climb, the rocket will be in much less dense air, requiring less power to escape earth’s atmosphere.
The Boeing 747
So how does the Boeing 747 play into this story? Well, Virgin Orbit is using a Boeing 747 to carry the rocket up into the atmosphere. The aircraft is called Cosmic Girl.
While the aircraft rocks the classic Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 livery, it didn’t need a repaint. In fact, the aircraft was previously used in Virgin Atlantic’s fleet for passenger flights. This has to be one of the more creative ways of upcycling an aircraft to date!
While currently registered as N744VG, the aircraft was delivered as G-VWOW to Virgin Atlantic in October 2001. In fact, the aircraft’s name comes from its Virgin Atlantic days. It seems rather fitting that of all the Boeing 747s, this one got the mission.
Where is the project at?
The project is going incredibly well. On the 25th of October, Virgin Orbit attached a rocket to the Boeing 747 for the first time. Then, on the 19th of November, the aircraft’s first flight with the rocket was completed. This showed that the aircraft was capable of flying with the rocket attached.
The most recent test flight took place yesterday. During this test, the aircraft dropped a rocket for the first time. While the rocket was not lit, it was a crucial test nonetheless. In fact, it enabled the Virgin Orbit team to observe how the rocket will fall away from the Boeing 747. This, in turn, allows them to plan for how the rocket will launch once separated from the aircraft.
What do you think of Virgin’s latest space-based endeavor? Let us know in the comments.