LOS ANGELES — Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said. A 70-foot-long (21.34-meter-long) LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later, and soared toward space. The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of tiny satellites known as CubeSats developed.
They were built as part of a NASA educational program involving U.S. universities. The launch occurred after the Boeing 747-400 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out over the Pacific Ocean to a drop point beyond the Channel Islands. According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit” Virgin Orbit tweeted later.” Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going bonkers” Therocket’ss upper stage coasted for a period, reignited to circularize the orbit, and then deployed the nine CubeSats.
The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly live streamed.
Based in Long Beach, California, Virgin Orbit is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.
Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its missiles was nearing launch Sunday.