Virgin Orbit Launches 10 Payloads for NASA

Cosmic Girl takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

MOJAVE, Calif., January 17, 2021 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, confirmed that its LauncherOne rocket reached space during the company’s second launch demonstration today, successfully deploying 10 payloads for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP).

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LauncherOne Reaches Orbit, Deploys Payloads

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 takes off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

UPDATE: Virgin Orbit has confirmed that the second stage fired as planned for the second time and that the payloads were deployed into the planned orbit.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne reached orbit for the first time on Sunday with 10 CubeSats aboard, marking a major milestone for Richard Branson’s air launch operation.

The modified Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port and flew out over the Pacific Ocean where it dropped the booster. Virgin Orbit tweeted that the NewtonThree and NewtonFour engines on the first and second stages fired as planned to reach orbit.

The rocket is now coasting in orbit. The NewtonFour engine will ignite a second time to circularize the orbit before the 10 CubeSats are released. The CubeSats are aboard as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites program.

NASA provided funding for the launch under its Venture Class Launch Services program, which is designed to help fund new small satellite launch vehicles.

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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FAA Limits Evaluation of Spaceport Infrastructure Funding Options

U.S. commercial launch sites that are licensed to host or have hosted since 2015, a commercial space launch, as of August 2020 (Credit: GAO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected a recommendation from a government watchdog that it conduct detailed analysis of a broad range of financing tools for funding infrastructure projects at the nation’s spaceports.

In a report to Congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it recommended to the FAA that it analyze the trade-offs of using direct loans, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other tools to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure.

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The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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Mojave Air & Space Port Appoints Interim CEO

Mojave Air and Space Port (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Mojave Air and Space Port’s Board of Directors has appointed former board member David Evans as interim CEO to replace Karina Drees.

Evans will serve in the post under a consulting contract while the board searches for a permanent replacement for Drees, who is leaving the position on Jan. 4.

Evans resigned from the board in October after serving for more than six years. He was originally appointed to the board in April 2014 to replace Dick Rutan, who resigned to pursue a business opportunity.

Evans is a certified public accountant and principal in Evans & Company, Inc., of California City. He is a commercial pilot and licensed flight instructor.

Drees is moving to Washington, D.C., to serve as president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. She had served as CEO and general manager of the spaceport since January 2016. Prior to that, Drees served as deputy general manager under Stu Witt for three years.

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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Shorthanded Virgin Orbit Postpones Launch Due to COVID-19

Closeup on LauncherOne. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has postponed the second flight of its LauncherOne booster scheduled for Dec. 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced on Saturday.

“Our latest round of contact tracing Friday evening led to a new batch of precautionary quarantines,” Virgin Orbit tweeted. “Consequently, we’ve fallen below the number of staff we feel we require to prudently and safely proceed with pre-launch operations….

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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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Mojave Spaceport CEO Karina Drees to Become Commercial Spaceflight Federation President

Karina Drees

Washington, DC (CSF PR) – Commercial Spaceflight Federation announced today that Karina Drees will join the organization as its new president, effective January 4, 2021.

Since 2012, Drees served as CEO and General Manager of Mojave Air & Space Port (MASP) and held several other senior leadership positions at the company. She is currently the vice chair of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) and has been an active member of the CSF Board of Directors for five years, including serving as treasurer from 2017 to 2020.

“Karina brings an impressive amount of senior leadership and business acumen to CSF, as well as in-depth knowledge and experience in the policy and regulatory arenas and the proven ability to grow an organization and build strategic alliances with key industry stakeholders,” said Audrey Powers, CSF Chairwoman of the Board of Directors and Vice President of Legal and Compliance for Blue Origin.

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Virgin Galactic Delays SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Due to COVID-19

SpaceShipTwo Unity in its first powered flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.

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