LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) – A Virgin Orbit rocket launched from a jet taking off off the California coast carried seven small satellites into space on Thursday, as the company begins a year in which it seeks to speed up launches. planning, of which two originated. Britain.
Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Southern California desert, took off over the Pacific Ocean and dropped a LauncherOne rocket from its left wing.
The 70-foot-tall (21.3 m) booster ignited at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,668 m) and hurled skyward.
While awaiting confirmation of the satellite’s deployment, the company tweeted: “Congratulations to our customers and welcome to space!”
The payloads included satellites from the US Department of Defense, Polish company Saturnevolution and international company Spire Global.
This was Virgin Orbit’s third launch to carry satellites for customers. The last two launches put several satellites into orbit in January and June 2021. The company’s first launch, a demonstration flight, failed in May 2020.
Virgin Orbit, founded in 2017 by British billionaire Richard Branson, went public last month. The company is targeting the market for launching small satellites. It touts the maneuverability of its air-launch systems compared to the limitations of fixed launch sites.
“The tremendous thing about using 747s is that we can put them into any orbit from anywhere in the world,” said Branson from the British Virgin Islands during the company’s launch webcast.
“I think there are only a handful of countries in the world that have the ability to send satellites from their own countries into space, and now 480 countries can use Virgin Orbit,” he said. “You just need to ring us.”
The company is planning six launches this year, including two for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, starting in Cornwall in south-west England. RAF test pilot Matthew “Stanney” Stannard flew the 747 from the main pilot seat on Thursday.
“This is going to be just a banner year for us,” Chief Operating Officer Tony Gingis said at a preflight briefing this week.
Gingis said there has been a steady improvement in flight-over-flight.
“I think we are not only seeing the kind of rigor that we expect but are actually gaining immense confidence in our processes,” he said.
Thursday’s mission was dubbed “Above the Clouds”, a title taken from a track from hip hop duo Gang Starr’s album “Moment of Truth”, released in 1998 by Virgin Records.
Branson mentioned during his interview that his family got COVID-19 over Christmas.
“Luckily we were vaccinated and increased and so none of us got it badly,” he said.