Virgin Orbit announces next launch: Straight Up

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl adapted Boeing 747 rocket launcher from below
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
9 May 2022

Virgin Orbit is preparing for its next launch, Straight Up, which is expected to launch no earlier than 29 June.

The next launch will support the United States Space Force’s STP-28A mission. LauncherOne is already at the Mojave Air and Space Port, ready to support the Rocket Systems Launch Program and carry payloads for the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program.

Next steps for Virgin Orbit include integration testing with the aircraft and ground equipment, followed by a full launch rehearsal and final mating to the customised Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, that Virgin Orbit uses as a reusable launch pad and mobile mission control room. 

This launch is particularly important for Virgin Orbit as it marks the first night mission for the responsive launch company. The target orbit is approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface at 45 degrees inclination – an orbit that no other system has reached from the West Coast.

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne under the wing of its adapted Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit National Systems team will have a key role to play in the Straight Up launch. This team has developed and provided services to the national security community, focused on defence and the protection of the US and its allies through Virgin Orbit’s responsive space capabilities. So far, Virgin Orbit has launched three successful back-to-back launches, including eight DoD Science and Technology demonstrations across two flights.

The launch name, Straight Up, is inspired by American singer Paula Abdul’s breakthrough song Straight Up from her debut studio album Forever Your Girl. Released through Virgin Records on 21 June 1988, it was the most successful debut album ever at the time of its release. The iconic dance-pop tune has remained Abdul’s biggest international hit to date.

“Virgin Orbit has been rising ‘straight up’ since we began commercial launch operations 18 months ago,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “More and more, we are seeing the importance of space to the security of the US and allied countries. We are honoured and committed to supporting the Space Force at this critical time.”

Mark Baird, President of the newly renamed Virgin Orbit National Systems (formerly VOX Space) added, “We believe this launch will demonstrate the significant maturation and operationalisation of a unique capability. I’m excited to see Straight Up, wheels up.”

Virgin Orbit's space mission from June 2021 - Tubular Bells: Part 1
Virgin Orbit

The Mission Manifest

US Space Force has procured this launch for the Rocket Systems Launch Program, with payloads provided by the DoD Space Test Program.

The launch will carry seven satellites from multiple government agencies that are experiments intended to demonstrate novel modular satellite bus, space domain awareness, and adaptive radio frequency technologies.

The Straight Up launch will support the United States Space Force’s STP-28A mission. The contract to launch STP-28A was awarded to Virgin Orbit National Systems in  April 2020 by the United States Space Force.

Launch Name: Straight Up

USSF Mission Number: STP-28A

Launch Site: Fully mobile LauncherOne system will conduct the flight from what is currently a bare concrete pad at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California

Target Orbit: Approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface at 45 degrees inclination

Launch Timing: No earlier than 29 June 2022

Launch Coverage: More information will be shared in the news over the coming weeks. Real time updates to be provided via social media and a public livestream.

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