Virgin Orbit is ready to test and send a satellite into space for the first time

Virgin Orbit – The sister company of billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism organization Virgin Galactic will test its small satellite launch rocket for the second time today after the first month, when it failed to reach orbit during the first attempt. It will also be the first time the company has attempted to send NASA-operated satellites into space.

Shortly after 1PM ET, Virgin Orbit’s custom Boeing 747 will depart from Virgin Galactic’s space port in the Mojave Desert and ascend 35,000 feet with a satellite launching rocket attached to its wing. Once it reaches a predetermined location, the rocket is about to crash and explode, allowing the spacecraft’s tiny satellites to orbit the rest of the way around the Earth. Virgin Orbit says the launch window will run until 5PM ET.

There is no ongoing investigation, although the company has a plan Tweet updates Throughout the flight. This will make the photos and video available shortly after the test is completed.

Virgin Orbit has spent years developing this method of rocket launching from aircraft, and has conducted complex high-speed flight tests since 2018. But in May last year, the company’s first full test of rocket launching capabilities did not go as planned. The plane landed correctly, the rocket crashed, and the main engine ignited. But a problem in the liquid oxygen fuel line prevented the rocket from reaching orbit.

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said in a conference call earlier this month that despite the epidemic, the company had changed its propellant lines and had carried out “extensive testing” since May.

“Looking [Virgin Orbit] “Get to the point and dive into the details and drive the maturity of the system, and it’s amazing to do so in an epidemic environment,” Hart said.

Aside from the technical improvements, the difference between the previous test and another is that Virgin Orbit will for the first time try to provide real commercial payloads for a user: NASA. The space agency has commissioned Virgin Orbit to launch 10 different small satellites from different universities. Each spacecraft will perform a variety of missions, from clearing debris to inspecting and maintaining other spacecraft, to observing the weather. A complete list is available on the Virgin Orbit website.

The mission was due to return in December, but was delayed because some members of the Virgin Orbit launch team had to be quarantined. Hart said Virgin Orbit had “made a huge amount of money to ensure the safety of the team” before today’s start. A big part of it is people working remotely, but for those who have to stay on site, Hart said the Virgin Orbit is enforcing social distance, forcing employees to use PPE, disinfect and install spaces. The air purifier said, “We’ve applied for every device you can imagine in the industry, but we have a team that is anxious to pay attention. Is going on. “

The launch attempt was rescheduled earlier this month, although it slipped a few times on today’s window. Company Tweeted on Saturday That the hardware is “in good shape” and the weather looks favorable.

Virgin Orbit’s approach to launching a satellite is very different from that of SpaceX or other major launch providers commonly used by NASA and others. But it is a company that believes it will help cut through one of the growing small satellite markets. With an air-to-air launch, the Virgin Orbit system does not require as many rockets or as much fuel as to help keep costs down. The company claims that this is a potentially more flexible system, as it can theoretically launch the 747 from wherever it launches and lands.

(These reasons may be due to the fact that Virgin Orbit has also entered into an agreement with the Department of Defense. Virgin Orbit also wants to launch missions to Mars.)

But first Virgin Orbit has to prove that the system works, and that the company can be profitable. Supporters such as Branson and Abu Dhabi’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, Mbdala, have so far maintained it through growth. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop an airborne launch system, the company is now seeking new funding of up to funding 200 million, which it will re-examine today.

Hart insisted on the phone that it was a test flight, and that the company would be “very happy to have the data” designed to continue the development and refinement of the launch system. He also said that the Virgin Orbit team is “mind-boggling” about whether there is a risk that we will reach the final orbit.

But Hart said Virgin Orbit “is working hard and looking at all the details and making sure we have the best shot to go into orbit” considering that the real on board at the moment. There are satellites. The work involves the support of a research team consisting of launching partners NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Force, and industry professionals.

“We really blindfolded our engineering team with a fresh set to make sure we weren’t drinking our bath water,” Hart said.

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