Virgin Orbit successfully launches seven more satellites into space

Virgin Orbit has successfully launched seven new satellites into space, on a rocket launched from an adapted Boeing 747 flying over the Pacific Ocean.

Richard BransonThe Mojave Space Company placed the small satellites into a 310-mile orbit, from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 4:39 p.m. ET (9:39 p.m. GMT) Thursday.

The jet, known as the Cosmic Girl, flew 35,000ft over the Pacific Ocean for an hour, before RAF pilot Matthew “Stanny” Stannard fired the LauncherOne rocket.

This launch was given the mission name, Above the Clouds, and was one of the first to launch into a 45-degree, 310-mile orbit from the west coast of the United States.

It includes satellites from the US Department of Defense, which are experiments in space communications and navigation in space, as well as a satellite from the British company Spire to detect space debris in low Earth orbit.

VirginOrbit tweeted after the launch: “Here you go folks! We just learned from Mission Control that [NewtonFour] re-ignited and successfully deployed all customer spacecraft to their target orbit.

Virgin Orbit launched seven satellites into space on Thursday, when RAF pilot ‘Stanny’ launched the LauncherOne rocket from a Boeing 747 35,000ft above ground

RAF pilot Matthew Stannard, known as “Stanny”, more used to a Typhoon jet, was at the controls of Cosmic Girl, the Boeing 747’s personalized launcher

VirginOrbit tweeted after the launch: “Here you go folks! We just learned from Mission Control that NewtonThree successfully re-ignited and deployed all client spacecraft to their target orbit,’ later correcting to say it was NewtonFour

HOW VIRGIN ORBIT SENDS SATELLITES INTO SPACE

LIFT-OFF Cosmic Girl, an adapted Boeing 747, takes off from an aerospace port, initially in California.

ROCKET DEPLOYMENT At a cruising altitude of about 35,000 feet, the chief pilot hits the big red button which releases the rocket from the pylon.

FIRST STAGE BURNING After a 4-second free fall, the first-stage engine, NewtonThree, comes to life, accelerating the rocket to over 8,000 miles per hour. Once its fuel is exhausted, the first stage detaches.

FAIRING SEPARATION With LauncherOne now between 310 and 745 miles above the Earth’s surface, the shroud opens, exposing the payload as it approaches its destination.

SATELLITE DEPLOYMENT Finally, with very precise timing, the second stage ejects the satellite into its final orbit.

BACK TO EARTH The atmospheric drag will eventually bring the second stage back to Earth, where it will burn up in the atmosphere, minimizing the environmental footprint.

Virgin Orbit has previously launched 19 satellites into space using the Cosmic Girl system and Launcher-One, but the company said before launch that this mission was different.

“We’re going to an orbit that we believe has never been reached from the west coast,” Virgin Orbit chief operating officer Tony Gingiss told reporters.

“We’re proving with this launch that we can achieve inclinations and orbital geometries that probably if you had asked us a year ago, we would have said, ‘Well, maybe.

The launch saw the team send the rocket through a 45 degree inclination to an orbital position of 310 miles, which they achieved by moving the drop point.

“We decided to fly the plane farther over the Pacific so we could fly along the South American coast without crossing landmasses,” Dan Hart, president and CEO of Virgin Orbit, told SpaceNews. .

“Our ability to achieve a 45 degree inclination from the west coast greatly increases the utility of a launch from the west coast,”

Pilot ‘Stanny’ was the one to pull the trigger on the 70ft rocket, once the plane reached 35,000ft. He is on a three-year secondment from the Royal Air Force, as part of a project designed to help the RAF understand the role of small satellite launches.

‘Stanny has been a wonderful addition to our team. As you would expect from his experience with the RAF, he brings a brilliant intellect, incredible attention to detail and an excellent base of experience, in addition to his world-class piloting skills,’ said Tony Gingiss , COO of Virgin Orbit, to the BBC. .

His secondment is part of a wider investigation by the UK Ministry of Defence, which plans to one day use Virgin Orbit to launch military satellites from the UK.

This is the third launch for Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne, with one of the satellites made by Glasgow-based company Spire Global.

It was a nanosatellite, developed in partnership with the Austrian Space Forum and Findus Venture, to detect space debris in low Earth orbit.

“Spire provides something we like to call ‘space as a service’ where we provide our expertise in nanosatellites and constellation management to help organizations develop their own applications on our satellites,” a carrier said. speak to MailOnline.

Virgin Orbit said the ability to add additional satellites at relatively short notice – this was decided in December – is an example of its responsiveness and flexibility.

It includes satellites from the US Department of Defense, which are experiments in space communications and navigation in space, as well as a satellite from the British company Spire to detect space debris in low Earth orbit.

This is the third launch for Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne, with one of the satellites made by Glasgow-based company Spire Global

Another example is the fact that it is a horizontal takeoff system, which means it can take off from a runway and fly to the desired insertion point.

This is the first of six launches planned by Virgin Orbit this year, and two of them will launch from Spaceport Cornwall in the middle of the year.

They will be the first satellites and the first rocket to be launched from UK soil, and are part of a wider UK Space Agency push for UK rocket launches.

The jet flew up to 35,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean for an hour, before deploying the Launcher One rocket and around 660 pounds of satellites contained inside

This launch was given the mission name, Above the Clouds, and is among the first to launch into this 45-degree, 310-mile orbit from the west coast of the United States.

Future satellites could be sent into polar orbit from northern Scotland, including the Shetland Islands, where a number of companies including Lockheed Martin and Skyrora plan to operate in the next few years.

In order to launch six times in 2022, Virgin Orbit needs to significantly increase the lead time, with this mission six and a half months after the last.

“We’ve pretty much cut it in half on almost every successive launch to date,” Gingass said, adding that for this mission the rocket left the factory in Long Beach, Calif., at 04:00 a.m. and was installed. on the 747 to Mojave six hours later. .

The launch included US Department of Defense satellites, which are experiments in space communications and space navigation

“There are definitely improvements that you’re going to see throughout 2022 in terms of synchronization between rockets,” Gingiss told SpaceNews.

“We also continue to increase the efficiency of our factory, which will allow us to get the rockets out faster.”

Going forward, Virgin Orbit plans to add more launch sites to its roster, with Cornwall joining California in 2022 and Japan being added to the roster for 2023.

The company is also in discussions with Australia, Brazil, a number of European countries and the US Space Force to operate from Guam.

RACE FOR FIRST ROCKET LAUNCH FROM BRITISH SOIL

The first-ever rocket to take off from UK soil is set to launch by the end of 2022, although the exact location is currently unknown.

There is a race between the Scottish and Cornish spaceports to be who will win the crown of Britain’s first launch site.

Spaceport Cornwall is a horizontal launch site, with a traditional airport runway, which is expected to accommodate Virgin Orbit.

The company founded by Richard Branson works by sending Cosmic Girl, an adapted Boeing 747-400, up to 35,000 feet carrying the LauncherOne rocket.

When it reaches the target altitude, the pilots deploy the rocket, which fires its engines and takes the payload – up to 300 kg – into orbit.

According to a report by The Telegraph, the aim is to try to ensure the first rocket launch leaves Earth before the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June.

Other contenders for the title of Britain’s first rocket launch include traditional vertical vendors.

These include Lockheed Martin, Orbex and Skyrora – all of which operate from Scotland, including Shetland.

OneWeb, the satellite communications company partly owned by the UK government, has been encouraged to use UK launch capability in the future.

They traditionally send their satellites, each weighing around 150kg, into orbit on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket from Russia in batches of 50.

The problem with this is that UK launch providers are looking to send small payloads, including nanosatellites.

These typically weigh less than 1,000kg, meaning only one or two OneWeb satellites can be launched on a UK rocket at a time – so they may only be useful as replacements for single satellites, rather than a part initial deployment of more than 650 spacecraft.

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