[This livestream has ended. A replay is available at the video player above.]
Virgin Orbit, the spin-off of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic satellite launch, sent its second mission of the year into orbit on Wednesday as the company gains momentum.
“It was just magical,” Branson said on the company’s live broadcast, adding that he hopes missions “become almost routine, and [Virgin Orbit] will be able to send more and more satellites, more and more rockets into space. “
The mission, called “Tubular Bells: Part One”, launched four cubic satellites as part of the US Department of Defense space testing program, as well as a small satellite for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and two imaging satellites for the Polish company SatRevolution.
Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 to launch its rockets, a method known as an aerial launch. Rather than launching rockets from the ground, like competitors such as Rocket Lab or Astra, the company’s plane carries its LauncherOne rockets up to about 45,000 feet above sea level and drops them. The rocket then fires its engine and accelerates through space – a method the company touts as more flexible than a ground-based system.
The mission launched the rocket over the Pacific Ocean past the Channel Islands of California on Wednesday.
LauncherOne is designed to carry small satellites weighing up to 500 kilograms, or approximately 1,100 pounds, in the space. Virgin Orbit completed its first successful launch in January and plans to perform its second later this month.
Virgin Orbit, entirely separate from Virgin Galactic, is privately owned by the multinational conglomerate Virgin Group of Branson, with a minority stake in the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala.
Virgin Orbit flew its modified Boeing 747 “Cosmic Girl” aircraft with the company’s LauncherOne rocket under its wing for the first time on November 18, 2018.