Virgin Orbit’s Demo Mission: The Good + the Not-So-Good

Virgin Orbit conducted a launch demo of the company’s air-launched rocket on May 25 in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, just off the California coast.

The company successfully completed all of the pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition.

An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.

The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at their Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind. Virgin Orbit’s decision to begin production of multiple rockets well in advance of this test flight will enable the team to progress to the next attempt at a significantly faster pace, shortly after making any necessary modifications to the launch system.

Dan Hart

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said that the team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals set for this flight, though not as many as all would have liked. Nevertheless, this is a big step forward.  The Virgin Orbit engineers are already poring through the data. and the next rocket is waiting. The company will learn, adjust and begin preparing for the next test, which is coming up soon.


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