Virgin Orbit sets date for second attempt at unique rocket launch

Virgin Orbit is gearing up for a second try at launching a rocket to space from a modified Boeing 747 jet plane. It’s part of an ongoing effort to build a launch system for small satellites. The first attempt, which took place in May 2020, failed seconds after the rocket left the aircraft.

Virgin Orbit has announced it will attempt the feat again on December 19 during a four-hour window from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or during a similar time frame the following day. The aircraft will take off from Virgin Orbit’s base in California’s Mojave Desert before heading out over the Pacific to ignite the 70-foot-long LauncherOne rocket.

The upcoming Launch Demo 2 mission carries extra responsibility as the rocket will be carrying its first-ever payload, in this case satellites that include a set of cubesats for NASA.

The company won’t be livestreaming the event but is promising to provide real-time updates on Twitter as the mission progresses.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to send its LauncherOne rocket into space by firing it from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 took place in May 2020. But just seconds after igniting, an anomaly with the booster’s NewtonThree first-stage engine caused it to shut down. The team later said the failure had been caused by a fuel line issue, which has since been resolved.

Although the rocket failed to reach space, it still provided with the team with plenty of useful data, and confirmed that other parts of the process were in good working order.

“In our first Launch Demo, we demonstrated the entire prelaunch sequence, flyout, rocket separation and unpowered flight, engine start, and first-stage powered flight,” the company said this week. “Our team is fired up to build on those steps and to demonstrate the rest of the rocket system, including our upper stage. Again, we’re poised to collect terabytes of data from LauncherOne as it flies, further enhancing our knowledge and proving out our system’s capabilities.”

While companies like SpaceX launch satellites into space using conventional ground-based rocket launches, Virgin Orbit says its unique air-launch system will be able to take advantage of a global network of spaceports that will give companies seeking to deploy small satellites more choice for when and where they fly into orbit. The video below offers some insight into Virgin Orbit’s launch system as well as its plans for the future.

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