What it was like to attend the last launch


Bright white The Boeing 747 is modest on the ground, cruising lazily until it is ready to take off. It rolls towards the Pacific Ocean until it soars into the pale blue sky, just like any other plane. Except this plane has the LauncherOne rocket on board, which just fell under the left wing before taking off into space.

The official Virgin Orbit livestream of the company’s Tubular Bells mission.

Ring the tubular bells

Unconventional, sure, but the launch went according to Virgin Orbit’s plan, and company CEO Dan Hart is relieved. When Hart spoke with Reverse July 7 was a week after the success of the company Tubular bells: first part of the mission.

This was the third launch of Virgin Orbit. Its first in May 2020 was unsuccessful, but its second in January 2021 successfully launched 10 experimental CubeSats for NASA.

“You are so focused. It’s a very intense time when you’re getting ready for a launch, ”Hart said. “There is a lot of camaraderie and teamwork.

The team met at Mojave Air and Space Port in California – the same spaceport that hosts Stratolaunch – before the scheduled launch at 6:50 a.m. PT. The mission involved three clients:

  1. The US Department of Defense, who sent four tiny Research and Development CubeSats
  2. SatRevolution, a Wrocław-based satellite developer, which launched two optical satellites
  3. theRoyal Netherlands Air Force, which launched its first military satellite

“The fact that you pilot other people’s very precious spaceship becomes very, very clear when they start arriving at the launch site, ”Hart said.

Want to learn more about Virgin Orbit’s foray into spaceflight, the company’s relationship with Elon Musk, and its unorthodox rocket deployment method? Read full maintenance with CEO Dan Hart, only in MUSK LIS +.

There are a lot of things on this plane

Virgin Orbit’s unique approach means the stakes are even higher. Unlike companies like SpaceX or Rocket Lab which launch rockets from platforms, Virgin Orbit attaches its rockets to planes and releases them after take off.

As part of a plan to make satellite launches more accessible, that makes a lot of sense. After all, airports are everywhere. But there are bigger reasons Virgin Orbit is taking its unique approach – we’ll get to that later.

The Boeing 747 carrier, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, flew to a site in the Pacific Ocean about 50 miles from the Channel Islands. After its release at 7:47 a.m. PT, the LauncherOne rocket ignited its engines and sent the seven satellites into orbit about 500 kilometers (310 miles) above sea level.

“Watching the system work and fly, then take our customers into orbit… there’s nothing like it,” says Hart. “After all of this everyone kind of has tired eyes and amazing smiles.”

Hart praised the team’s “precision” and “professionalism” as they battled through a “high pressure, high intensity experience”. The team’s fears gradually faded as it became clear that the mission was going well.

“You feel a boost in confidence as the altitude increases,” he says.


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