Virgin Orbit plans to launch a rocket carrying 7 satellites on Thursday
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, like the one shown here during a 2019 test over the Pacific Ocean, is set to launch again on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Greg Robinson/Virgin Orbit
January 13 (UPI) — Virgin Orbit plans to launch an ambitious 2022 launch schedule on Thursday by sending seven small satellites into space aboard a rocket launched from a jet over the Pacific Ocean.
The LauncherOne rocket is scheduled to launch just after 2 p.m. PST under the wing of the company’s Cosmic Girl, a modified 747, about an hour after liftoff from Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California.
Virgin Orbit successfully carried out launches using the same method twice in 2021.
Company officials said at a press conference on Tuesday that they hope to launch six missions in 2022, which would position the company among the most active space launch companies today.
“This year, we’re aiming for six launches and essentially doubling our cadence,” CEO Dan Hart said.
Other plans discussed on Tuesday included launch targets from Spaceport Cornwall in the west of England in 2022 and from Guam and Brazil in subsequent years.
Thursday’s launch is set to carry four satellites for the US Department of Defense that will test undisclosed new technologies for communication and navigation in space.
The mission is also carrying two tiny satellites for Polish company SatRevolution, which was a Virgin Orbit customer when it last launched in June.
SatRevolution’s spacecraft for Thursday’s launch is known as STORK-3, which gathers farmland imagery and data, and SteamSat-2, which will test water thrusters.
Finally, Virginia-based Spire Global, a satellite imagery provider, will launch Adler-1, which was developed in partnership with German and Austrian partners to study space debris in low Earth orbit.
The rocket will carry the satellites into a single orbit, launching into a 45-degree inclination from the equator, which has never been attempted from the west coast, said Tony Gingiss, Virgin’s chief operating officer. orbit.
Reaching such an orbit is “really showing the flexibility and capacity of our system which [enables us] to get to a place where we can achieve that orbit,” Gingiss said.
Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl can take off from any major airport runway carrying the rocket under its wing, whereas most rockets can only be launched from vertical space launch pads.
The company is currently seeking a license to launch from Guam and final approvals to launch from Spaceport Cornwall, Gingiss said.
If the company’s plan to launch from Cornwall is successful, it would mark the first-ever orbital space launch from England or Europe, Hart said.
The European Space Agency has a successful space program using French company Arianespace’s rockets, but these are launched from the agency’s spaceport in French Guiana, South America.
The new Virgin Orbit mission is called Above the Clouds, which refers to former Virgin Orbit parent company Virgin Group, which still owns a majority stake in the launcher. Virgin Records launch hip-hop duo Gang Starr’s Over the clouds album in 1998.