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article imageVirgin Orbit's success in launching first rocket into space

By Tim Sandle     Jul 12, 2019 in Technology
Virgin Orbit has run a successful rocket test, with the company's launch aircraft dropping a dummy rocket from the aircraft's wing. This brings the launch of a real payload closer.
Virgin Orbit's Boeing 747 launch aircraft (Cosmic Girl) has successfully dropped a dummy LauncherOne rocket from its wing, which the test taking place in air space above the Mojave Desert. The test rocket was dropped from tens of thousands of feet in the air. This is a very different approach to the traditional rocket, launched vertically from the ground. The Virgin solution is to launch rockets horizontally from high altitudes via aircraft. The company's focus is now on launching a real rocket.
Virgin Orbit is a company within the Virgin Group which plans to provide launch services for small satellites. the company is a spin-off from Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.
The new test, where a rocket was dropped 35,000 feet, was declared a success by Chief Executive Dan Hart. Hart said of the “drop test”: “This was really the capstone of the flight test program. We’ve been trying gradually more and more complex missions. Today, everything just operated like clockwork.”
The LauncherOne test rocket was loaded with water and antifreeze to simulate the weight of fuel. The objective of the exercise was to determine how the rocket and plane behaved in the few seconds after release, and to see how the rocket fell.
LauncherOne is a two-stage air-launched vehicle that relies on Virgin-designed and built Newton RP-1/LOX liquid rocket engines. The rocket is 1.6 meters in diameter for the first stage and 1.3 meters for the second stage. The first stage runs on one NewtonThree engine (a 16 kilonewtons thrust engine), while the upper stage uses a NewtonFour engine (211 kilonewtons).
Virgin Orbit is racing to get ahead of rival firms Stratolaunch (which uses the same system as Virgin), Firefly and U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab. Each innovator is looking at using smaller or non-traditional systems to get smaller satellites into orbit. Ahead of the pack appears to be Rocket Lab, which has completed six orbital launches to date. Where Virgin Orbit has an advantage is with its rocket being capable of hauling twice the weight of Rocket Lab's own rocket.
More about virgin orbit, Rocket, payload, Test flight, Space
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