Virgin Orbit has achieved another milestone, successfully launching its first nighttime satellite placement into low-Earth orbit. 

In 2020, the US Space Force allocated a $35 million contract to Virgin Orbit for three missions to deliver payloads for the Space Test Program. The military refers to the Virgin Orbit’s initial test flight as failed, but in January 2021, the corporation used LauncherOne to enter orbit. And now, the United States Space Force will use this expedition as one of Virgin’s first of the three missions to expand its global coverage, New Atlas reports. 

LauncherOne

After years of development and test flights, Virgin Orbit finally started operations last June. They are using a modified 747 to launch satellites, flying off from regular airport runways and deploying a LauncherOne rocket from a great height. The payload is subsequently carried to orbit by this rocket after firing its engines. 

Two pilots and three launch engineers made up the flying crew piloted the modified 747 jumbo jets transporting the rocket into space. The jet preceded the mission’s southeast direction across the Pacific Ocean west of San Diego as it soared off the coast of Southern California.

Virgin Orbit said that the company is “honored” to provide support and services at this crucial time for the country’s defense.

“We are honored to be supporting and delivering for the US Space Force and the US Department of Defense at such a critical juncture for national security space, our nation, and our world,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

“An incredibly talented Virgin Orbit team and our LauncherOne system continue to demonstrate a track record of success for our spacecraft customers, and that was confirmed again today,” he added.

Cosmic Girl Virgin Orbit 747. (Source: Tmedia1, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

New Atlas reported that the Virgin Orbit has recently performed four straight missions as a byproduct of the launch. The first-night operation occurs as the firm strives to emphasize further its strategy’s adaptability and responsiveness for launching satellites. This focus incorporates the power to launch from any location in the world.

With its maiden international launch planned for later this year with the UK Space Agency and Royal Air Force at Space Port Cornwall, which will also serve as the first-ever orbital launch from UK land, it will move in that direction.

“All things are moving in a good direction for Cornwall,” Hart said in a report from Stephen Clark.

The launch was postponed by two days to address problems with the propellants’ temperature.

Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit Founder Richard Branson has expressed a proud moment for the “Straight Up” mission and measured the potential of the mission.

“There is so much potential benefit for everyone from space if we just manage it well together. We are delighted for the opportunity to work with the US government to help make space a safe and fruitful environment for all,” Branson said.

Clark also said in a report that the rocket obtained a preliminary orbit after an upper stage firing that spanned five and a half minutes. Seven CubeSat payloads were launched into a near-circular orbit at around 310 miles or about 500 kilometers and an inclination of 45 degrees to the equator using just a second run of the NewtonFour upper stage engine.

‘Fourth Launch’

This satellite is the heart of a space-based communications system called Iridium. (Source: Tmedia1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ben Sampson said the fourth launch took place for the first time at nighttime from a runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. This was the first system ever to leave the West Coast to reach an orbit 500 kilometers above the Earth’s surface at a 45-degree inclination.

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This mission sent seven satellites to low-Earth orbit for the US Space Force. With the help of its LauncherOne technology, Virgin Orbit has now positioned 33 satellites in orbit. The Cosmic Girl, a modified 747-400, operates as the carrier aircraft for the air-launch system, which flies a payload-carrying rocket to a great height before launching it.

The satellites launched by the LauncherOne rocket will showcase cutting-edge technology backed by NASA and the US military.

Designed to travel up to 20 times the speed of sound (17,000mph), LauncherOne is a 70-foot-long, 57,000-pound (25,800 kilograms) rocket that can lift small satellites up to 660 pounds or 300 kilograms, including communication systems and weather satellites.