With video: Virgin Orbit completes key drop test ahead of orbital test flight

Virgin Orbit completes key drop test ahead of orbital test flight

Virgin Orbit has completed a key drop test of its LauncherOne vehicle.

With video: Virgin Orbit completes key drop test ahead of orbital test flight

Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, announced that it has successfully completed a key drop test of its LauncherOne vehicle.

The company says this is the last major step in the development programme for its launch service.

Virgin Orbit has completed a progression of test flights with its “flying launch pad” Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne vehicle — the latest test marks the beginning of the company’s transition to its orbital test flight launch campaign.

On the most recent test flight, Virgin Orbit released a fully built, fully loaded — although inert — LauncherOne rocket from Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 that serves as the rocket’s carrier aircraft.  The test flight began with a take-off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at Mojave, CA, at 8.43 am Pacific.

The drop itself occurred at 9.13 am Pacific from an altitude of 35,000 feet over a testing range at Edwards Air Force Base.  The primary purpose of the test was to monitor the few critical seconds just after release, to ensure the rocket and aircraft separate cleanly and to observe how the rocket freefalls through the air. 

Watch footage here:

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, commented: “[This] test was a monumental step forward for us. It’s the capstone to a thorough development programme not just for a rocket, but for our carrier aircraft, our ground support equipment, and all of our flight procedures. I’m extremely proud of the team for getting us to this point, and for their spectacular performance.” 

Virgin Orbit’s Chief Test Pilot, Kelly Latimer, said: “The whole flight went incredibly well. The release was extremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely. There was a small roll with the aircraft, just as we expected. Everything matched what we’d seen in the simulators well — in fact, the release dynamics and the aircraft handling qualities were both better than we expected. This was the best kind of test flight sortie from a test pilot’s perspective — an uneventful one.”

Spaceports

In addition to the Mojave Air and Space Port — the California launch site that will be home to the company’s first orbital launch as well as subsequent launches to high inclination orbits — other spaceports have announced that they are working to prepare themselves for future missions of LauncherOne, including the Launch and Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom and the Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Italy.

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