Virgin Orbit First Launch This Weekend – Panasonic To Provide IFC

Virgin Orbit is gearing up for a very important mission over the weekend, as its unique Boeing 747 ‘Cosmic Girl’ will undertake its first demonstration launch of the satellite deployment vehicle LauncherOne. Set to take place on Saturday, May 23rd, in a four-hour window starting at 10:00 PT, the flight will be relying on Panasonic to provide crucial inflight connectivity to the team.

Virgin Orbit
Panasonic has been selected to provide inflight connectivity to Virgin Orbit. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Panasonic selected for the important mission

Panasonic Avionics has revealed today that it will be providing inflight connectivity for Cosmic Girl, the Boeing 747 owned by Virgin Orbit, and tasked with deploying satellites into space.

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In a statement sent to Simple Flying, Ken Sain, Chief Executive Officer of Panasonic Avionics Corporation, said,

“Virgin Orbit is set to deliver an exciting step forward in satellite launching technology, and we are thrilled to support their vision with our inflight connectivity.

“Panasonic Avionics’ proven inflight connectivity services are used by airlines around the world to provide operational connectivity for not just passengers, but aircraft and their systems, and we look forward to supporting Virgin Orbit by providing a critical live link between air and ground.”

The inflight connectivity provided by Panasonic will allow Virgin Orbit’s ground crew to keep in touch with eh flight team, as well as to monitor the health of the launch system at all points during the flight.

Virgin Orbit
Cosmic Girl is an ex-Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 adapted to carry the LauncherOne rocket. Photo: Virgin Orbit

The launch demo

Virgin Orbit announced earlier this week that it would be conducting its first-ever launch demo on Saturday, May 23rd. There’s a four-hour window during which the launch can take place, starting from 10:00 PT.

Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747, will take off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, as long as conditions are favorable. Although air-launched deployments like this are less susceptible to weather conditions, it makes sense to remain cautious for this maiden flight.

Virgin Orbit has said it has similar windows on May 24th and 25th, should things work against the launch on Saturday.

Virgin Orbit
LauncherOne will take the satellite from cruising altitude into orbit. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Once airborne, Cosmic Girl will ascend to the ‘deployment zone,’ which in this case is over the Pacific Ocean, near San Nicolas Island off the California coast. At around 35,000 feet, the pilot hits what Virgin calls ‘the Big Red Button’ to release LauncherOne from the pylon. Interestingly, the Boeing 747 has to pull a rather unusual maneuver at this point to angle the rocket at precisely 27 degrees for launch.

Once the rocket is detached, NewtonThree, the first stage engine, roars into life, accelerating the rocket to around 8,000 miles per hour. Now at somewhere between 310 and 745 miles above the Earth’s surface, NewtonFour blasts directional thrust to circularize the orbit of LauncherOne. The faring of the rocket pops open, exposing the satellite, and then with pinpoint accuracy, the satellite is ejected into its final orbit.

Virgin Orbit First Launch This Weekend – Panasonic To Provide IFC
Cosmic Girl previously practiced the maneuver to ensure it was inch-perfect. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Although this is just a launch demo, it’s a key step on the road to bringing Virgin Orbit’s unique means of satellite deployment into service. For Panasonic, it’s a superb opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of its well renowned inflight connectivity system on a very high profile mission.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart further said,

“We designed LauncherOne to be more mobile and flexible than any other platform out there, and that’s required us to implement innovative, cutting-edge solutions throughout the system. We’re grateful to Panasonic Avionics for their support — helping us keep eyes on our flight crew, Cosmic Girl, and the rocket as we fly out to our launch point. We’re certainly looking forward to having this technology in action during our upcoming launch demo.”

Will you be watching Cosmic Girl take off this weekend? Let us know in the comments.