Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit announced Tuesday that its upcoming space launch, dubbed Tubular Bells, Part One after the first album with Virgin Records, is on track to start in the last week of June. The launch service said its rocket launcher, LauncherOne, was shipped to Mojave Air and Space Port in California where final preparations are underway.
Virgin Orbit's launch system uses a technique called air launch in which a rocket is launched from the wing of a 747-40 jet aircraft, referred to as Traditional Girl, rather than from a traditional launch pad on the ground. In addition to improving the payload capacity of the rocket, the technique allows LauncherOne to fly on short notice and from a wide variety of locations to access any orbit
Last week, Virgin Orbit conducted a successful cryoload test where LauncherOne was fully compressed with liquid oxygen propellant and fully filled to flight-like levels.
During this test we were able to achieve all of our planned objectives including 100% LOX and fuel fill and nominal pressurization of all high pressure gas systems with no tank leakage said the company in a statement.
Virgin Orbit will now approach the runway with a combined dress rehearsal where it will run through all wet launch operations until takeoff.
If all looks good, we’ll be in the clear to launch forward and push forward, added the company.
The launcherOne payload will include satellites from the Royal Netherlands Air ForceNetherlands Air Force's Space Test Program, SatRevolution and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Department of Defense is launching three cube satellites as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative of the program. As part of a 14 satellite constellation STORK - 4 and STORK-5, SatRevolution is launching two optical satellites.
The Royal Netherlands Aerospace CentreNetherlands Aerospace Centre is launching the country's first military cube satellite known as BRIK II which was built and integrated in space with contributions from the University of Oslo, the Delft University of Technology and the Royal Netherlands Air ForceNetherlands Air Force.
We will send this integrated payload stack to Mojave that is expected to join the rest of the system very soon, Virgin Orbit said.
The second mission comes after LauncherOne's latest successful launch demonstration in January. During the demonstration, Cosmic Girl flew over the Channel Islands to a launch site situated about 50 miles south of the Pacific Ocean.
LauncherOne was then blasted from the aircraft, where the two-stage rocket ignited and burned into orbit. At the end of the flight, LauncherOne deployed a payload of 10 satellites selected by NASA as part of the CubeSat Launch Initiative of the US Space Agency. Nearly all of the satellites were designed, built and tested by universities across the United States including Brigham Young University, the University of Louisiana and the University of Lafayette at Michigan.
The flight marked the first time an air-detained, liquid-fueled class aircraft successfully reached space according to Virgin Orbit.