Three Launches & a Hot Fire in Three Days

Fully loading the propellant and detecting no leaks is a major milestone for the Green Run test series. A total of 114 tanker trucks delivered propellant to six propellant barges next to the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. (Credits: NASA)

The upcoming holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Day on Monday) will see NASA conduct the long awaited Green Run hot fire of its Space Launch System rocket core and orbital launches by Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and SpaceX involving 71 satellites.

Saturday, January 16

Launch Vehicle: Rocket Lab Electron
Mission Name: “Another One Leaves the Crust”
Payload: OHB Group micro communications satellites
Launch Time: 2:41 EST (0741 UTC)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com (begins 15 minutes prior to launch)

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed as engineers examine sensor data. They have a 10-day launch window.

Hot Fire: Space Launch System Core
Test Window: 5-7 p.m. EST (2200–0000 UTC)
Test Site: Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Webcast: www.nasa.gov (begins at 4:20 p.m. EST/2120 UTC)
Post-test Briefing: Approximately two hours after test completion on NASA website

Sunday, January 17

Launch Vehicle: Virgin Orbit LauncherOne/Cosmic Girl
Mission Name: NASA ELaNa-20 mission
Payloads: 10 CubeSats
Launch Window: 1:00-5:00 p.m. EST (1800-2200 UMT)
Launch Sites: Mojave Air and Space Port, California (Cosmic Girl Boeing 747), Pacific Ocean (LauncherOne)

Monday, January 18

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Falcon 9
Mission Name: Starlink V1.0-L16
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 8:45 a.m. EST (1345 UTC)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com (begins 15 minutes before launch)

Virgin Orbit Delays Flight Test to Sunday

Cosmic Girl performs a pitch up maneuver during a flight test on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has delayed the flight test of its LauncherOne booster originally scheduled for Wednesday until Sunday, Jan. 17. Operations are expected to take place between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST (1800-2200 UTC). Your local time may vary; please adjust accordingly.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will release LauncherOne over the Pacific Ocean west of San Nicolas Island. The rocket’s first stage will fire once the booster is clear of the aircraft.

LauncherOne’s second flight test will carry 10 CubeSats for NASA under the space agency’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program. NASA also funded the launch under its Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program.

LauncherOne’s first flight test failed on May 25, 2020. The first stage fired for about four seconds, but then quit due to a break in a propellant line.

This second flight test is seen as crucial for Virgin Orbit, which is attempting to raise an additional $200 million in investment. Founder Richard Branson has said the company has already raised $1 billion in its effort to reach orbit.

The Virgin Updates: Orbit Resets Launch Date, Galactic Finds Cause of In-flight Abort

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)

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled the second flight of LauncherOne booster for Wednesday, Jan. 13. The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10. The operation is set to take place from 7-10 a.m. PST (1500-1800 UTC). As always, your local time may vary. Please adjust accordingly.

The modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne to the west of San Nicolas Island. The booster, carrying 10 CubeSats for NASA, will ignite its first stage and head to space.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for live updates at www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to fly LauncherOne ended in failure on May 25, 2020. The rocket’s first stage cut off about four seconds after ignition after a fuel line broke. The booster was carrying a mass simulator.

Meanwhile, sister company Virgin Galactic says it has found the cause of the failure that resulted in an in-flight abort of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in December. The suborbital space plane’s engine shut off after the vehicle’s computer lost contact with it.

The two pilots aboard safely glided the ship back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity was carrying a load of microgravity experiments for NASA.

Virgin Galactic did not say exactly what exactly caused the computer to lose contact with the engine. Nor did the company set a date for a repeat flight test.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans three additional flight tests of VSS Unity before beginning commercial suborbital tourism flights sometime later this year.

Virgin Orbit Launch Attempt Scheduled for Jan. 10

Cosmic Girl with a fueled LauncherOne on approach to Mojave on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The U.S. Coast Guard has posted a Local Notice to Mariners (LNM) that says Virgin Orbit is planning to conduct the second flight test of its LauncherOne rocket off the coast of California on Sunday, Jan. 10.

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Virgin Orbit Likely to Fly LauncherOne in Mid-January

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne attached during a dress rehearsal for a flight. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit Program Update
via Twitter

Update from Mojave: as our teammates cleared their preventative quarantines, we got back into our pre-launch operations. Sunday and Monday, we completed our final wet dress rehearsal — the last big test we had planned prior to our launch.

Our policies around social distancing were strict before, but we’ve since implemented even more extreme measures to ensure the health and safety of our team. A full 2/3rds of the small crew who were on-site for our previous WDR supported this latest rehearsal remotely.

Our hardware is basically ready to go, as is our team. We are working with our partners in government and with our customers to identify our new candidate launch windows. We’ll publish new dates as soon as they are final, but currently, the window is likely to be mid-January.

Finally: to all of our friends, neighbors, and families, we wish you a joyous, safe, socially distanced, disinfected holiday season. As 2020 winds down and we all prepare to enter a new chapter, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones — and wear a mask!

NASA’s ELaNa 20 Mission First to Fly on Virgin Orbit Launch

Virgin Orbit teammates complete a dry run of the payload encapsulation process in Aug. 2020 inside their “Nebula” payload processing facility ahead of the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. (Credits: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson)

By Danielle Sempsrott 
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

MOJAVE, Calif. — Ten NASA-sponsored CubeSats are preparing to fly on the agency’s next Educational Launch of Nanosatellites  (ELaNa) mission, making this the first payload carried by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

With the small satellites safely secured inside the payload fairing, and the fairing mated to the rocket, Virgin Orbit is gearing up for ELaNa 20, the Launch Demo 2 flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

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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.

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Virgin Orbit 747 Flies the Racetrack Over the Pacific Ocean

Credit: FlightAware

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A gloomy Sunday in Mojave didn’t stop Virgin Orbit from getting in some practice for the upcoming second flight test of its LauncherOne rocket.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 conducted a nearly three-hour long practice flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

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Virgin Orbit has Raised $1 Billion, Needs $200 Million More

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

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch company needs another $200 million in investment after having already raised $1 billion.

So said the British billionaire during The Wall Street Journal’s recent Tech Live conference. The amount raised is considerably larger than a previous estimate of $700 million.

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Video of Virgin Orbit LauncherOne’s Abbreviated Flight

Nine seconds.

That’s how long the flight of LauncherOne lasted from being dropped from the Boeing 747 to its engine crapping out.

Virgin Orbit explained on its website:

For about 9 seconds after drop, the flight went perfectly. Through some of the most challenging portions of our flight — release, the controlled drop, the rocket’s ignition sequence, and the initial portion of guided, powered flight — every part of our system did exactly as we designed it to do. We have solid data from hundreds of channels and sensors — and in looking at those, we see performance that is well-matched to our predictions and to the extensive data we have from our models and ground tests. This means that we have proved out via flight the foundational principles of our air-launch operations, which is the key thing that separates us from our peers in the industry.

About 9 seconds after drop, something malfunctioned, causing the booster stage engine to extinguish, which in turn ended the mission. We cannot yet say conclusively what the malfunction was or what caused it, but we feel confident we have sufficient data to determine that as we continue through the rigorous investigation we’ve already begun. With the engine extinguished, the vehicle was no longer able to maintain controlled flight — but the rocket did not explode. It stayed within the predicted downrange corridors of our projections and our Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license as the vehicle fell to the ocean, posing no risk to public safety, no danger our aircrew or aircraft, and no significant environmental impact.

There’s more on the website about what the company achieved despite the failure on Monday. There’s lots of data to go over before the next launch attempt.

Virgin Orbit Press Release on LauncherOne Failure

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)

Mojave, Calif., May 25, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, conducted a launch demonstration of its innovative air-launched rocket today in the skies over the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast. The company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.

“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today.  Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind. Virgin Orbit’s decision to begin production of multiple rockets well in advance of this test flight will enable the team to progress to the next attempt at a significantly faster pace, shortly after making any necessary modifications to the launch system.

Video of Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 Takeoff & Landing

Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port on May 25 with a fully fueled LauncherOne booster under its left wing. The launch over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands failed. The aircraft and crew returned safely to Mojave.

Videographer: Kenneth Brown

Panasonic Provides In-flight Connectivity for Virgin Orbit Launches

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (Panasonic PR) — Panasonic Avionics Corporation (Panasonic) has been selected by Virgin Orbit to provide inflight connectivity for its airborne rocket launch platform.

Panasonic’s latest generation high-speed inflight connectivity system has been installed on Cosmic Girl, the modified Boeing 747-400 that serves as the carrier aircraft for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system. Virgin Orbit is currently undergoing final rehearsals for an orbital launch demonstration expected soon.

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