A Virgin Orbit rocket released from a jet flying off the California coast carried seven small satellites into space on Thursday; as the company kicked off a year in which it plans to ramp up the pace of launches, including two originating from Britain.
Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 aircraft took off from Mojave Air & Space Port in the Southern California desert, flew out over the Pacific Ocean and dropped the LauncherOne rocket from its left wing.
The 70-foot-long (21.3-meter) booster ignited at an altitude of about 35,000 feet and hurtled skyward.
The company later confirmed that all of the satellites were successfully deployed into the proper orbit.
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“Another fantastic day for the Virgin Orbit team, and a big step forward for our customers,” the company tweeted.
The payload included satellites for the U.S. Defense Department, the Polish company SatRevolution and the international company Spire Global.
It was Virgin Orbit’s third launch carrying satellites for customers.
Two previous launches carried multiple satellites into orbit in January and June 2021. The company’s first launch, a demonstration flight, failed in May 2020.
Virgin Orbit, founded in 2017 by British billionaire Richard Branson, went public last month.
The company is targeting the market for launching small satellites.
It touts the mobility of its air-launch system compared to the limitations of fixed launch sites.
“The tremendous thing about using a 747 is we can put them into any orbit from anywhere in the world,” Branson said from the British Virgin Islands during the company’s launch webcast.
He added that there’s only a handful of countries that have the capability of sending satellites to space from their own territories; and Virgin Orbit is now an option for nations around the world.
The company plans six launches this year, including two for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF); that will originate from Cornwall in southwestern England.
RAF test pilot Mathew “Stanny” Stannard flew the 747 from the main pilot seat on the Thursday launch.