Virgin Orbit Sets Holiday Season Launch Window

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Orbit has set a window for its Launch Demo 2 mission. The primary date is Saturday, Dec. 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST. There is a similar backup launch window on Dec. 20.

LauncherOne will be carrying 10 Cubesats being flown under NASA’s Educational Launch of NanoSatellites (ELaNa) program. The launch itself is being funded under the space agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program.

This is a very important launch for Richard Branson’s company. The first LauncherOne flight on May 25 went awry seconds after the first stage engine fired due to a broken fuel line. The booster, which carried a mass simulator, fell into the ocean off the coast of the California.

Virgin Orbit is seeking $200 million in financing in addition to the $1 billion that Branson has said has already been allocated for the company to reach orbit. A successful launch would make raising those funds much easier. It is not clear what effect a failure would have on the company.

The launch window is a change of pace in that it is during the holidays as opposed to being on one. Virgin Orbit did a full-scale rehearsal for its first launch on Easter Sunday. Then they did the actual launch on Memorial Day. I was afraid they might go for a trifecta and try to launch on Christmas Eve/Day or New Year’s Eve/Day.

Virgin Orbit’s announcement mentions additional windows in the weeks that follow if they don’t launch on either day. Given how Mojave usually empties out and the spaceport all but shuts down at Christmas time, I’m guessing that’s code for some time in January. But, I could be wrong.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like I’m going to stuck in the High Desert through the holidays. So, Ken Brown and I should be here to cover the takeoff and landing of the Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft.

Remote and desolate, Mojave is really the last place you want to be during the holidays. The days are short, the nights long, and temperatures can dip below freezing as gale force winds tear through empty streets battering buildings and tearing up roofs. Last year, it snowed on both Thanksgiving and Christmas days.

Last December, I did some housesitting down in Los Angeles, hung out with some old friends, saw a Star Wars movie I almost instantly forgot, and spent some time in sunny San Diego with my sister and mom. All in all, a great way to end the year.

None of that is an option this year with the pandemic raging and vaccinations still in the future. But, if I can stay safe and healthy, it will be worth it.