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Virgin Orbit Prepares For Its First Launch

Image courtesy of Virgin Orbit.

Virgin Orbit posted the following announcement on its website on 21 May 2020:

We are extremely excited to announce that the window for our Launch Demo mission starts on Sunday, May 24th, and extends through Monday, May 25th, with an opportunity to launch from 10 A.M. – 2 P.M. Pacific (17:00 – 21:00 GMT) each day.

That means that this weekend, our 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl will prepare to take off from Mojave Air and Space Port, fly out over the Pacific ocean, and release our two-stage, orbital rocket, LauncherOne — which will then proceed to ignite its engine in mid-air for the first time.

This Launch Demo marks the apex of a five-year-long development program. On our journey to open up space for everyone we’ve conducted hundreds of hotfires of our engines and our rocket stages, performed two dozen test flights with our carrier aircraft, and conducted countless other tests of every bit of the system we could test on the ground.

Launching from the Earth to space is mind-bogglingly difficult. Thousands of components all need to function as planned while controlling high energy and flying at incredibly fast speeds. The vehicle’s structures must be robust enough to tolerate traveling at up to 18,000 mph without disintegrating; the temperatures and pressures of its propellants can’t be too high or too low; every internal valve must click open and closed in perfect synchronicity…  There’s a long list of factors that need to line up in order to make it all the way. We’re mindful of the fact that for the governments and companies who have preceded us in developing spaceflight systems, maiden flights have statistically ended in failure about half of the time.

In the future, the goal of our launches will be to deploy satellites for a new generation of space-based services. For this Launch Demo, though, our goal is to safely learn as much as possible and prove out the LauncherOne system we’ve worked so hard to design, build, test and operate.

The instant our Newton Three engine ignites, we will have done something no one has ever done before — lighting an orbital-class, liquid-fueled, horizontally-launched vehicle in flight. If LauncherOne reaches an altitude of 50 miles on this mission, it will be the first time this kind of launch system has reached space.

We’ll continue the mission for as long as we can. The longer LauncherOne flies, the more data we’ll be able to collect. Should we defy the historical odds and become one of those exceedingly rare teams to complete a mission on first attempt, we will deploy a test payload into an orbit, take our data, and then quickly de-orbit so as not to clutter the heavens.

Regardless of the ultimate conclusion of this Launch Demo, we’re excited to learn as much as we can.

We are so grateful to all of you who have followed along with us during this launch campaign — our families, our customers, and all of the others who have cheered us on, offered helpful suggestions, and celebrated the goal of bringing a new type of launch service into fruition. We look forward to sharing more on flight day. For near real-time updates follow us on Twitter (@Virgin_Orbit).  See you on launch day!

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