Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, is now in Long Beach after a brief stay at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The aircraft has been modified to air-launch the LauncherOne small-satellite booster.
Although ground vibration tests of the baseline modified 747 have been conducted to check for aeroelastic stability as well as for detecting potential structural issues, a second series of vibration tests will shortly begin in Long Beach to check for aeroelastic response with a mass representing LauncherOne.
“We will get a basic understanding of the interaction between the airframe and the rocket, and that will be a big part of understanding the flight characteristics,” says LauncherOne Chief Engineer Kevin Sagis.
Flight testing will be divided into four main stages, with the initial phase focused on baseline performance of the “clean” aircraft without the pylon or launch vehicle. Phase two will test performance with the pylon attached. Phase three will be divided into two with the initial work testing the pylon with an empty rocket, and a second period of tests with the rocket “wet” and loaded with water. The fourth phase will be a complete dress rehearsal with the rocket prior to the first release and firing flight test. Virgin appears confident the bulk of the work will be completed over the next four months, though no specific target date for the first launch is yet has been disclosed.
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