Virgin Orbit is gearing up for its debut commercial mission from southern California, five months after the company first reached orbit during a January test flight. Seven satellites from three different countries are loaded onto a rocket that will blast off in mid-air from Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 less than an hour after the plane departs the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Take off of the carrier aircraft, the modified Boeing plane named Cosmic Girl, is expected for 9:50AM ET. About an hour later, A 70-foot-long two-stage rocket called LauncherOne will ignite its single engine and takeoff from under the plane’s left wing over the Pacific ocean, zooming out of Earth’s atmosphere. The Netherlands’ first military satellite, three tiny satellites from a Defense Department test program, and the first two of 14 imaging satellites for SatRevolution’s constellation will soar toward orbit.
Virgin Orbit calls the mission “Tubular Bells: Part One,” marking its third flight since May 2020 and the debut of its commercial satellite service. That first flight attempt failed to reach orbit when an interrupted fuel line caused the rocket to shut down shortly after detaching from Cosmic Girl. The next attempt in January, carrying satellite payloads for the first time, was a success and capped Virgin Orbit’s test program. Wednesday’s Tubular Bells mission will be followed by at least one more mission this year, CEO Dan Hart told reporters on a Tuesday call (without providing a specific date for that mission).
The missions will precede a much busier launch schedule in 2022. “Now it’s a matter of just continuing to ramp up and moving rockets through integration,” Hart said, expecting six launches in 2022. He added Virgin Orbit signed “quite a few” launch deals after its January test flight.