Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket undergoes fit checks underneath a 747 jet that’s been modified to serve as a carrier airplane. (Virgin Orbit Photo via Twitter)
What do you get when you cross a Boeing 747 with a rocket launcher? You get something like what you see in the pictures that Virgin Orbit sent out today, showing a LauncherOne rocket tucked beneath the wing of a converted 747 that’s been christened “Cosmic Girl.”
Such a system is designed to serve as Virgin Orbit’s air-launch platform for putting payloads weighing up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) in orbit. Future customers include OneWeb, which is working on a constellation of satellites for global internet access; and Seattle-based Spaceflight, which handles the logistics for small-satellite launches.
Virgin Orbit, a sister company to British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, has been working on the system for years. The concept calls for a LauncherOne rocket and its payload to be attached to a pylon hanging down from Cosmic Girl’s left wing. When the jet reaches its target altitude of 35,000 feet, the two-stage rocket is dropped from the pylon and fires up its Newton engines to head for orbit.
You’ve seen photos of our rocket. You’ve ...