Virgin Orbit successfully drops rocket from plane over Mojave Desert

  • Virgin Orbit successfully drops rocket from plane over Mojave Desert

Virgin Orbit successfully drops rocket from plane over Mojave Desert

"Later this month, our integration team will wrap up that testing, mate the stages together and then hand the rocket off to our launch operations team", Virgin Orbit wrote in yesterday's blog post. The company's "air launch" system involves a modified Boeing 747 that carries the rocket tens of thousands of feet into the air, where it is then released as part of an overall system aiming to take satellites into space.

The test rocket was a fully built, fully loaded - although inert - LauncherOne rocket, allowing for it to be safely dropped over the Edwards test range. The release was extremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely.

Now THAT's what I call a drop test!

The primary goal of the test was to monitor the few critical seconds just after release, to ensure the rocket and aircraft separate cleanly and to observe how the rocket freefalls through the air. Video from today's very successful drop test of our #LauncherOne small satellite launch vehicle.

The test went to plan and was deemed successful. The aircraft could be tracked on Flightradar24.com.

Competition is fierce among Virgin Orbit, Firefly and U.S.

The first orbital flight of LauncherOne is the next big box to check. A June 14, 2019 report on CNBC.com by reporter Michael Sheetz said, "Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch at $400 million, people familiar with the matter tell CNBC".

Such air-launch systems are extremely flexible, making it possible to launch satellites to a variety of orbits with just 24 hours' notice, Branson has said. "We can launch at any time, to any orbit (Earth or Moon) and from anywhere in the world".

Branson's greatest achievement with LauncherOne may be even more practical; cost. It's the capstone to a thorough development program not just for a rocket, but for our carrier aircraft, our ground support equipment, and all of our flight procedures.

Hart said acquisitions or mergers could play a role in Virgin Orbit's growth strategy and did not rule out buying assets of Stratolaunch. On a pound-per-dollar basis, SpaceX's Falcon 9 is less expensive, but LauncherOne can specialize in smaller, shorter lead-time orbital payloads.

That launch location will join other sites including the United States, Guam and United Kingdom, which Virgin Orbit says will provide satellite makers and governments more flexibility. Virgin Orbit has confirmed the operational rocket for the first powered air launch has "already undergone extensive testing".