Virgin Orbit is one step closer to putting satellites in space, having tested every part of its launch system that can be tested on the ground.
The Stage Test team at the satellite launching company has completed a series of hotfires of LauncherOne, where they test the firing equipment on the ground.
Almost all rockets use multiple stages to get to space. These are effectively two or more rockets attached together. The spacecraft uses these individually and once it has used all the fuel in the first stage to get it through most of the atmosphere, the empty fuel tank and other hardware are detached because they are unnecessary weight . The spacecraft then carries on its way to space using the next stage.
The LauncherOne rocket, which Virgin Orbit uses, has two stages – each of which has its own engine and propellant. The first stage ignites and burns for about three minutes to lift the rocket to the edge of space, and then it detaches and falls back to Earth. Once that has happened, the second stage ignites to stabilise the orbit and directly inject the satellite where it needs to be.
In its early days, Virgin Orbit was testing engines, avionics and structures all separately but now they’ve moved on to test these elements together as the whole integrated system – also known as a stage.
These tests are challenging for the team because of the number of people and parts involved. But they are also extremely valuable because they run through the entire end-to-end fuelling operation as on a real mission day.
Virgin Orbit is closer than ever to launch. Find out more on the Virgin Orbit website.