On Sunday, Virgin Orbit achieved a first when it deployed satellites into low-Earth orbit by firing a rocket from beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747 jet.
The company founded by Sir Richard Branson has just posted a cinematic recap (top) of Sunday’s groundbreaking mission that includes footage shot on board the jet as well as the 21-meter-long rocket.
The achievement made Virgin Orbit only the third privately funded company to reach orbit after SpaceX and Rocket Lab, and allows it to join those two enterprises in establishing a service deploying small satellites in space for global customers. It was also the first time for an orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket to reach space.
Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747, which once flew passengers for Virgin Atlantic, took off from the company’s Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert on Sunday morning before flying out over the Pacific where it released its satellite-laden LauncherOne rocket from beneath its left wing.
Unlike a failed attempt to reach orbit in May 2020 when an anomaly with the rocket’s first-stage NewtonThree engine caused it to shut down just seconds after igniting, this time the rocket soared into space before successfully deploying nine small satellites for NASA.
“A new gateway to space has just sprung open,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said after the mission. “That LauncherOne was able to successfully reach orbit today is a testament to this team’s talent, precision, drive, and ingenuity. Even in the face of a global pandemic, we’ve maintained a laser focus on fully demonstrating every element of this revolutionary launch system. That effort paid off today with a beautifully executed mission, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Following confirmation that the satellites had successfully deployed, Branson tweeted how Virgin Orbit had “started as an idea with a sticker on the floor in a hangar,” adding, “Now we’re launching rockets off the wing of our modified 747 and flying them into orbit to drop off satellites.”
.@Virgin_Orbit started as an idea with a sticker on the floor in a hangar – now we're launching rockets off the wing of our modified 747 and flying them into orbit to drop off satellites pic.twitter.com/rELzqzAbGW
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) January 18, 2021
With Sunday’s flawless mission now in the bag, Virgin Orbit said it will officially transition into a commercial service, with a slew of bookings already coming in from the likes of the U.S. Space Force, U.K.’s Royal Air Force, California-based Swarm Technologies, Italy’s SITAEL, and Denmark’s GomSpace.
- Watch highlights of Rocket Lab’s spectacular night launch
- NASA delays Boeing’s Starliner test flight — here’s how to watch
- Watch Jeff Bezos cause audience chuckles in 2000 talk about going to space
- SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy wins major NASA contract for Jupiter moon mission
- NASA gives nod to next week’s crucial test flight of Starliner spacecraft