Virgin Orbit satellites soar into orbit

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket takes off
Virgin Orbit
Headshot of Greg Rose
by Greg Rose
14 January 2022

Virgin Orbit successfully deployed all seven customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket into orbit during its latest mission.

The Above The Clouds mission was Virgin Orbit’s third successful flight, occurring less than one year from its first mission, and continuing the company’s successful track record of delivering satellites for government and commercial customers. 

The responsive launch and space solutions company’s 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl took off from Mojave Air and Space Port and flew to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket ignited and propelled itself towards space, ultimately deploying its payload into a precise target orbit approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface at 45 degrees inclination. This marked the first time that anyone has reached this orbit from the West Coast.

Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit has now successfully delivered commercial, government, international, and national security satellites to space, including new Above the Clouds customer Spire Global, Inc. and first ever repeat customers: the US Department of Defense Space Test Program and Polish company SatRevolution. 

The satellites launched on the company’s latest mission include experiments in space-based communications, space debris detection, and in-space navigation and propulsion, as well as satellites that will serve the global agricultural sector. The launch brings the total number of satellites launched by Virgin Orbit to 26.

“Our customers are starting to hear back from their satellites that are checking in from orbit - and for us, that’s what success looks like. It’s a thrill for our team that this mission included our first repeat customers as well as our first ‘last minute ticket’ customers and reached an orbit that no one had ever reached from the West Coast before, all of which confirms the team’s ability to provide top tier launch service anywhere, anytime,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

“On top of that, we flew through weather and a cloud layer that would have grounded any other launch I’ve worked on in my career, something only made possible by air-launch and our incredible team. We can say with confidence that in this new era of regular, frequent, successful missions, we can help our customers and partners use space technology to advance human knowledge and open space for good.”

“What an unforgettable experience to watch the Virgin Orbit team complete another perfect mission to space. I could not be prouder of the work they are doing. I am beaming alongside them,” said Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson. “We supported experimental, important work for our three happy customers today. I congratulate them and our wonderful team.”

Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit

Because of the unique air-launch system Virgin Orbit has developed, the Above the Clouds mission was launched in an orbit never before directly accessible from the West Coast of the Americas. Rather than launching from a fixed pad on the ground, Virgin Orbit conducts its launches from under the wing of a modified 747 aircraft, and by flying the aircraft further out over the ocean, the company was able to launch on a trajectory no ground-launch rocket could have achieved. That direct injection into the target orbit saved the satellites onboard this mission months of time and kilograms of fuel they might have otherwise spent correcting their orbit from what a landlocked launch site could provide them.

The Above the Clouds mission was named after the fifth track on Gang Starr’s 1998 album Moment of Truth, featuring Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan. The record was released by Virgin Records in collaboration with Noo Trybe Records and is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.

The latest Virgin Orbit milestone came just days after the company brought a 70-foot rocket to Times Square to mark going public as #VORB at Nasdaq HQ in New York. Head over to Virgin Orbit to find out more.