Branson’s Virgin Orbit launches 7 satellites from 747 plane

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has carried satellites from three countries into space

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit carried satellites from three countries into space on Tuesday, its second rocket launch from a plane this year.

The company’s modified 747 jet dubbed Cosmic Girl Jet took off over California’s Mojave Desert, carrying a 70-foot (21-meter) rocket under its left wing. Once the plane was over the Pacific near the Channel Islands, the LauncherOne rocket exploded, then fired its engines to go into space. This drop occurred at an altitude of about 37,000 feet (11,000 m).

Camera views showed the package of seven small satellites opposite the blue Earth curve at the end of the second stage. The satellites belong to the US Department of Defense, the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Poland’s Saturnevolution Company, which are working to establish an Earth-observing constellation.

An hour after the rocket fired, Virgin Orbit was still awaiting confirmation that the launch was successful.

Branson – whose Virgin Galactic company is close to introducing paying customers to the edge of space – kisses Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart on the cheek, once satellites reach orbit.

“It’s a pinch yourself moment,” Branson said. “Cheers! Well done, everyone.”

Virgin Orbit sent its first batch of satellites into orbit in January; The 10 satellites sponsored by NASA were designed and built by universities. Last year a flight demo was unsuccessful.

Virgin Orbit said its air-launch system can put satellites into orbit at relatively short notice compared to the more traditional method of launching rockets from the ground. Branson expects satellite launches from the Mojave Air and Space Port to be “almost routine.”

Branson named Tuesday’s mission the Tubular Bells after the musical became famous in the 1973 horror film “The Exorcist.” It was the first album produced by Virgin Records.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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