This week Virgin Orbit successfully flew its second LauncherOne mission, placing 7 customer satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The company is on track to start ramping up its launch cadency to monthly by 2022, including converting more 747 aircraft into carrier launch vehicles for the LauncherOne rocket.
The Virgin Orbit 747 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft left the Mojave Air and Space Port on June 30, 2021 at approximately 9:50 A.M. PDT and flew out to a launch area over the Pacific Ocean about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket ignited and deployed its payload into an orbit around 500 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
“What an unforgettable experience to be here in Mojave to watch the Virgin Orbit team complete another perfect mission to space. Everything went exactly to plan and the fact that we dropped the rocket from our 747 at 7:47 AM PDT made it particularly fitting. Perfect timing!” said Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson. “We had customers here from three countries and I congratulate all of them and all of our wonderful team.”
LauncherOne carried a total of 7 satellites into orbit for this rideshare mission, including four R&D CubeSats for the US Department of Defense, two optical satellites for SatRevolution, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s first military satellite.
The LauncherOne system is relatively unique in the many new small launch systems coming to market, using the 747 carrier aircraft as a “virtual first stage.” Since the 747 carrier aircraft can be flown from any number of larger airfields, it can be used to launch satellites from locations around the world. Virgin Orbit plans to conduct missions from Guam and the UK in the near future.
With its second successful flight, LauncherOne joins Rocket Lab’s Electron as a viable option for customers that need to put small satellites in orbit. Small launch options are about to become much more prolific in the second half of this year, with expected first commercial flights by Astra, ABL, Firefly, and Relativity Space.
Virgin Orbit is reportedly in talks to conduct a SPAC, taking the company public and valuating it at $3 billion.