Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl, N744VG (c/n 32745, ex G-VWOW), has carried out its first captive carry test flight with its flying launch pad. The specially modified Boeing 747-400 carried a 70ft (21m) long rocket under its wing as part of a successful test flight of the company’s ‘LauncherOne’, created by Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company. The flawless flight proved that the carbon-fibre two-stage rocket works perfectly with the 747 launch vehicle.
The test, described by Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart as “picture-perfect”, was a major step forward in the company’s quest to bring a new capability to small satellite launches. The flight took place at Victorville, California – close to the firm’s Long Beach factory and also near to one of its launch sites, the Mojave Air & Space Port. During the 80-minute flight, Virgin Orbit’s crew assessed the take-off, landing, and low-speed handling characteristics of the 747 as well as the performance of the integrated system.
Chief pilot, Kelly Latimer, said: “The vehicles flew like a dream and we are all extremely happy with the data we saw from the instruments on board the aircraft, in the pylon and on the rocket itself.”
The company will conduct several more test flights culminating in a drop test, during which a rocket will be released from Cosmic Girl – without igniting – and data will be collected as it freefalls through the atmosphere.
On the strength of the progress the project is achieving, Virgin Orbit says it is confident that its first space shot will be achieved in early 2019. The launch provider expects to conduct multiple trips to orbit during the year ahead and has already begun building and testing production rockets.