Sunday Morning, Virgin Orbit became the third privately funded American rocket company to reach Orbit and the only one to complete mid-air feats. The company’s liquid-fueled rocket called the launcher was released from under the wing. cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbit adapted Boeing 747, off the coast of California. cosmic GirlThe pilot, Kelly Latimer, partnered with the rocket at a distance of about 30,000 feet – at the peak altitude of a typical passenger jet – and after a few seconds of lag, LauncherOne ignited its engines and extended itself into space. Once it reached orbit, the rocket released a payload of 10 CubeSat made by NASA and researchers from several US universities before falling back to Earth.
The successful launch was a welcome win for the Virgin team, which has been full of failures since the first launch attempt last spring. This first test flight ended in May, just seconds after the rocket had left, because there was a malfunction in its propellant line. After engineers identified and fixed the problem, company officials planned a second launch in December, but decided to postpone it as the Kovid-19 cases spread around their headquarters in Los Angeles.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told reporters on a call ahead of the launch on Sunday, “We put a huge amount of money in to assure the safety of the team and our launch operation and our activities are virtual.” “It’s really amazing to do this in the face of an epidemic.”
Today’s launch marked the culmination of nearly a decade of work by engineers at Virgin Orbit, one of two rocket companies founded by billionaire Richard Branson. In 2018, Virgin Orbit’s sister space company, Virgin Galactic, created history by launching a spacecraft carrying two humans from under a custom plane that sent them rockets to the edge of space. Branson clearly loves launching goods from aircraft and has worked with engineers and pilots from both companies to make it easy. Now the question is, can he turn it into a sustainable business?
Air launch is usually associated with missiles that are bound for targets on the Earth’s surface, but also has a long history in the space industry. The first Orbital air-launched rocket, known as the Pegasus, was sent into orbit in the early 1990s by the Orbital Sciences Corporation, which has since been transformed into the Northrop Grumman. Like LauncherOne, the Pegasus is capable of propelling about 1,000 pounds of payload into space, and the rocket is dropped from the belly of a passenger passenger. But in the last 30 years, Pegasus has only run 44 missions. In that perspective, SpaceX has flown more than twice in the past decade.
“When I started looking at a feasibility study and wondering if we should do it, Pegasus was the blinking signal that was 24/7 in my vision,” said Willowment, vice president of special projects at Virgin Orbit, last May of the company. First launch attempt. “Technically, Pegasus is a huge success. But from a market perspective, maybe not. “
Pomerantz says that Pegasus failed to attract many customers because when it was launched, those customers were not present. The commercial small satellite industry has exploded over the past few years, and now hundreds of companies are looking for a cheaper ride to space. Pegasus is still nearby, but its launch cost has increased over the past few decades. In the 1990s, NASA paid $ 16 million for the Pegasus launch. Today it costs close to $ 60 million. Even accounting for inflation, that cost is nearly three times that, and is beyond what most of these small satellite companies can afford. Air launch was once an idea ahead of its time — but now Pomerantz believes its time has come.