Virgin Orbit successfully launches satellites on first night mission

Virgin Orbit launched a rocket carrying seven satellites from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California early Saturday morning at 1:49 a.m. ET (10:49 p.m. local time), marking the small satellite launcher’s first successful nighttime mission. The company brought the satellites into low Earth orbit using its Boeing 747 carrier plane called Cosmic Girl, which had the LauncherOne rocket strapped under one of its wings.

The mission, called Straight Up after a 1988 song by Paula Abdul, involved seven research satellites as part of NASA’s space testing program. Like her previous missions, Virgin Orbit blasted satellites into space by having Cosmic Girl carry the LauncherOne rocket 35,000 feet above the ground, giving her a head start before the rocket detached and launches its payload into orbit. Virgin Orbit initially postponed the mission on Thursday after finding that its rocket booster temperature was “slightly out of range”.

Virgin Orbit has made five launch attempts in total, but only failed once on its maiden test flight in May 2020. It has been on a roll since first launching into orbit in January 2021, deploying a set of satellites in orbit in June 2021 and ending yet another mission earlier this year. Virgin Orbit’s Straight Up mission is the company’s fourth successful flight to date.

Virgin Orbit is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson and should not be confused with Virgin Galactic, the company’s separate arm for commercial spaceflight. The company went public via a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) merger last year. Although it has performed all of its launches from Southern California so far, Virgin Orbit plans to lift off from Cornwall, England later this year.

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