Virgin Orbit announce window for launch demo

Virgin Orbit Launch Demo
Image from Virgin Orbit
Headshot of Greg Rose
by Greg Rose
19 May 2020

Virgin Orbit have announced the window for their Launch Demo mission starts on Sunday, May 24th, and extends through Monday, May 25th, with an opportunity to launch from 10 AM – 2 PM Pacific (17:00 – 21:00 GMT) each day.

Virgin Orbit’s 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl will prepare to take off from Mojave Air and Space Port this weekend. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne, Virgin Orbit’s two-stage, orbital rocket, which will then proceed to ignite its engine in mid-air for the first time.

The Launch Demo marks the apex of Virgin Orbit’s five-year-long development program, which has included hundreds of hotfires of their engines and their rocket stages, two dozen test flights with their carrier aircraft, and countless other tests.

As Virgin Orbit explained on their website: “Launching from the Earth to space is mind-bogglingly difficult. Thousands of components all need to function as planned while controlling high energy and flying at incredibly fast speeds. The vehicle’s structures must be robust enough to tolerate traveling at up to 18,000 mph without disintegrating; the temperatures and pressures of its propellants can’t be too high or too low; every internal valve must click open and closed in perfect synchronicity.

“There’s a long list of factors that need to line up in order to make it all the way. We’re mindful of the fact that for the governments and companies who have preceded us in developing spaceflight systems, maiden flights have statistically ended in failure about half of the time.”

Virgin Orbit's adapted Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl taking off through the skies
Image from Virgin Orbit

In the future, the goal of Virgin Orbit’s launches will be to deploy satellites for a new generation of space-based services. For this Launch Demo, though, their goal is to safely learn as much as possible and prove out the LauncherOne system they have worked so hard to design, build, test and operate.

Virgin Orbit stressed the pioneering nature of the Launch Demo. “The instant our Newton Three engine ignites, we will have done something no one has ever done before — lighting an orbital-class, liquid-fueled, horizontally-launched vehicle in flight. Once we reach an altitude of 50 miles it will be the first time this kind of launch system will have ever done so.

Virgin Orbit's adapted Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl
Image from Virgin Orbit

“We’ll continue the mission for as long as we can. The longer LauncherOne flies, the more data we’ll be able to collect. Should we defy the historical odds and become one of those exceedingly rare teams to complete a mission on first attempt, we will deploy a test payload into an orbit, take our data, and then quickly de-orbit so as not to clutter the heavens. Regardless of the ultimate conclusion of this Launch Demo, we’re excited to learn as much as we can.”

Virgin Orbit will be posting near real-time updates on Twitter @Virgin_Orbit – follow along for the latest from the team and head over to the Virgin Orbit website to find out more.