Virgin Orbit to Launch Again by End of Year

LauncherOne (Credit: Mojave)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Coming off flawless back-to-back launches, the Virgin Orbit team has settled into a steady flight preparation rhythm with LauncherOne. [Earlier today], the fully assembled rocket that will carry our next customers’ satellites to space has left our rocket factory in Long Beach and headed up to the bare concrete pad at the Mojave Air and Space Port that serves as all the spaceport we need. Already, the rocket has been mated to the customized 747 that serves as our flying launch pad, mobile mission control, and fully re-usable first stage all at once.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Jetliner Prepares for Satellite Launch

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 flight. (Credit: Flight Aware)

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl rehearsed an upcoming satellite launch over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday evening. The 3 hour plus flight originating and ending at the Mojave Air and Space Port involved flying what is called the race track near the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.

Last month, Cosmic Girl was practicing nighttime touch-and-goes on Runway 12-30 at the spaceport. That indicates Virgin Orbit is gearing up for the first night launch of its LauncherOne satellite booster.

LauncherOne will launch the STP-27VPB mission for the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). The rocket will also launch the PAN A and PAN B spacecraft, which are part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

The flight will be called Tubular Bells, Part 2 after a popular instrumental song of that name produced by Virgin Records. Tubular Bells, Part 1 was the name of the LauncherOne flight that orbited the STP-27VPA mission in June 2021.

Virgin Orbit successfully launched 10 microsatellites for NASA’s ELaNa program in January. It was the first successful flight of LauncherOne, which failed on its maiden launch in June 2020.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Returns to Mojave for Overhaul

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve mothership returned to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Saturday for the start of 8-10 months of upgrades and repairs. The dual fuselage airplane flew from its operating base at Spaceport America in New Mexico to the spaceport where it was built and first flew 13 years ago on Dec. 21, 2008.

(more…)

Action! Filming a Simulated Lunar Landing From the Dusty Desert Floor

Zandef Deksit’s ExoCam in its metal cage rests on the desert surface of Mojave, California. Masten Space Systems’s Xodiac VTVL vehicle can be seen in the ExoCam’s viewfinder and in the distance. (Credits: Jason Achilles Mezilis/Zandef Deksit, Inc.)

By Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

MOJAVE, Calif. — Video capture during future lunar landings could play an important role in contributing to researchers’ understanding of disturbances in lunar surface materials – called regolith – caused by the lander’s rocket plume. With support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, on Oct. 14, 2021, researchers from Los Angeles-based Zandef Deksit put a high-tech video capture and regolith sensor payload called ExoCam to the test. The desert environment of Mojave, California, provided a stand-in for the surface of the Moon, and the Xodiac vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) platform from Masten Space Systems was the test vehicle.

Simulating the movement of a lunar lander, the VTVL vehicle enabled researchers from Zandef Deksit and co-investigators from Honeybee Robotics to test an ejection mechanism to jettison the ExoCam onto the desert surface at specific altitudes just before landing. Along with calculations to account for lunar gravity, this helped the team understand the limit of how far from a planetary surface they would need to eject the payload in order for it to survive landing and function properly.

Once on the ground, the payload’s camera captured video footage from the unique vantage point of the desert surface. The ExoCam also utilized a regolith sensor developed by co-investigators at Arizona State University to capture data about the quantity of regolith particles picked up by the vehicle’s rocket plume, as well as the speed at which they were propelled as the lander descended onto the surface.

About Flight Opportunities

Flight Opportunities rapidly demonstrates promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce through suborbital testing with industry flight providers. The program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington, and managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the solicitation and evaluation of technologies to be tested and demonstrated on commercial flight vehicles.

Mojave Spaceport Receives $5.9 Million for Improvements to Longest Runway

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft on runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port following a taxi test. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

MOJAVE, Calif. — The Mojave Air and Space Port has received a $5.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to rehabilitate and strengthen portions to Runway 12-30, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) announced.

(more…)

Environmental Review Paves Way for Virgin Orbit Launches From Guam

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An assessment has concluded that Virgin Orbit (VO) could conduct satellite launches out of Anderson Air Force Base on Guam without having any significant impact on the environment.

The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is a major step forward for Richard Branson’s company, which is seeking a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch from the U.S. island commonwealth. The finding eliminates the need to conduct a lengthier and more detailed environment impact statement.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit to Launch SatRevolution’s “Constellation of Constellations”

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif., June 29, 2021 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based responsive launch company, announced today it has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will expand its relationship with SatRevolution, the low-cost small satellite manufacturer and space services company based in Wrocław, Poland. The new agreement, which comes as two SatRevolution satellites are in the final countdown for launch on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system, lays the groundwork for the launch of hundreds of additional satellites as well as the joint development of integrated mission services, and other potential areas of collaboration.  

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Updates Schedule for Next Week’s Launch

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — The Virgin Orbit team is excited to share an update on timing for our upcoming mission, Tubular Bells: Part One!  

When

With wet dress rehearsal successfully completed, our team is proceeding through the final routine items on our pre-flight checklist. We’re coordinating with our stakeholders to identify the final preferred targets for launch, with an eye on June 30th or the early days of July.

We will only proceed with the mission if all conditions for launch are nominal. If for some reason the launch is delayed, we have backup windows extending through July.

Where

Our carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl will take off from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California, and will travel approximately 1 hour out to sea before releasing the rocket just off the Pacific coast.

Mission Manifest

A total of 7 satellites will fly on LauncherOne for Tubular Bells: Part One. The full list of customers onboard this mission includes:

  • The U.S. Department of Defense, which is launching three CubeSat sets as part of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI) Initiative. This launch, also known as STP-27VPA, was awarded to Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space by the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), an organization working to accelerate the adoption of commercial technology into the U.S. military to strengthen national security.  
  • The Royal Netherlands Air Force, which is launching the Netherlands’ first military satellite, a CubeSat called BRIK II, built and integrated by Innovative Solutions in Space.
  • SatRevolution, which is launching the first two optical satellites, STORK-4 and STORK-5 (A.K.A. MARTA), of the company’s 14-satellite STORK constellation.

How to Watch

For live updates as the flight progresses, please tune into our public livestream, which will be available on our YouTube. Alternatively, you can follow along with our live-tweets on Twitter (@VirginOrbit).

Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

(more…)

Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit Sets Next Launch for End of June

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has posted an update on its third launch attempt, now scheduled for the last week in June. Here are the most relevant parts.

We recently completed final integration for all of the satellites flying onboard LauncherOne during this mission — a total of 7 spacecraft from the Department of Defense Space Test Program, SatRevolution, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force….

Reminder: We’re so excited to bring you live views from Mojave on launch day with our first official mission livestream, available via our YouTube page. From interviews with customers to a deep dive into our patch design process, there’s no better way to get the full story behind this launch. Don’t miss out!

As part of our quest to ensure no one is excluded from space, we’ll also provide our audience with some additional accessibility options during the livestream, including live closed-captioning and an on-screen American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

Alternatively, you can follow along as we live-tweet the mission @VirginOrbit.

Read the full update.

United States Space Force Partnering with VOX Space for First DoD Launch

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (USSF PR) The United States Space Force, Space and Missile Systems Center has partnered with VOX Space, a US-incorporated, wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, to launch multiple Department of Defense satellites on a commercial rideshare mission from the Mojave Air and Space Port, California. The launch is currently scheduled for June 2021.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit to Launch Again in June

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit is planning its third launch of small satellites for sometime in June. The Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and drop the LauncherOne booster over the Pacific Ocean.

(more…)

IT’S ALIVE! Stratolaunch’s Roc Aircraft Flies for First Time in 2 Years

Stratolaunch overhead (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Flight signals revival of giant airplane, which will focus on launching hypersonic test vehicles.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For the first time in 2 years 16 days, Stratolaunch’s massive Roc aircraft roared down the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and soared into in clear blue sky on only its second ever flight test.

Roc took off at 7:31 a.m. PDT time, trailing a giant cloud of dust stirred up by its six jet engines and giant 385-ft long wings that hung out over the desert scrub brush. The aircraft flew over the Mojave Desert for more than three hours as a crowd that had gathered for takeoff watched.

(more…)

Stratolaunch Took to Air Two Years Ago

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Two years ago today, on April 13, 2019, Stratolaunch’s enormous dual fuselage aircraft with a 385-ft wingspan took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port trailing a cloud of dust. It flew over the Mojave Desert for 2 hours 29 minutes before landing back on runway 12-30.

The plane was the dream child of Scaled Composites’ founder Burt Rutan and funded by the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. It was designed to air launch satellites using a medium-size rocket.

Allen didn’t live to see the first, and thus far, only flight test of the aircraft. He passed away the previous October from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Stratolaunch flies (Credit: Stratolaunch)

His sister, Jody, was the executor of Allen’s estimated $20 billion estate. She decided to sell the company. The new owners are now preparing to use the aircraft to launch hypersonic test vehicles.

The giant aircraft was out on Runway 12-30 for several days last week. It was likely conducting some taxi tests. It is not clear when it will take to the skies again.