Virgin Orbit has announced that it has completed a crucial drop test of its LauncherOne vehicle, which marked the final major step in the development program of the company’s launch service.
Orbit has completed multiple test flights, and this achievement marks the beginning of the company’s transition to its orbital test flight launch campaign.
On the most recent 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, which took place on July 10th, began with a takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
The rocket was dropped 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.
The flight was piloted by Virgin Orbit’s chief test pilot Kelly Latimer and Todd Ericson, both of whom also fly for Virgin Orbit’s sister company, Virgin Galactic. Also on board were Zack Rubin (flight test director), Bryce Schaefer (launch engineer), Jason Panzarino, (launch engineer) and Kevin Sagis (chief engineer).
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said: “Today’s test was a monumental step forward for us. It’s the capstone to a thorough development program 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 today. I’ve told them to take a few hours now to celebrate – our first launch campaign begins in the morning.”
As Virgin Orbit has progressed to launch, it has been involved in three, parallel streams of work. Firstly, the team needed to test LauncherOne on the ground to prove that its engines, tanks and pumps were able to function together at different stages. Virgin Orbit also needed to complete its flight test program, which has now come to a close after today’s drop test.
Finally, the company also needed to build, assemble and test its first orbital test flight rocket. Later this month, Virgin Orbit will finalise that rocket’s assembly before handing it off to the company’s operations team for a rigorous series of checks and rehearsals leading up to its first launches to space later this year.
Find out more about Virgin Orbit here