Virgin Orbit successfully launches 7 satellites into orbit

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A Virgin Orbit rocket shot down by a jet flying off the California coast launched seven small satellites into space on Thursday, as the company kicked off a year in which it plans to ramp up the pace of launches, including two from the UK .

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 took off from Mojave Air & Space Port in the Southern California desert, flew out over the Pacific Ocean and dropped the LauncherOne rocket from its left wing.

The 70-foot (21.3-meter) booster ignited at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and raced skyward. The company later confirmed that all of the satellites were successfully placed in the correct orbit.

“Another fantastic day for the Virgin Orbit team and a big step forward for our customers,” the company tweeted.

And there we have it folks! We just heard from Mission Control that NewtonThree has successfully reignited all customer spacecraft and placed them in target orbit. Another fantastic day for the Virgin Orbit team and a big step forward for our customers.

— Virgin Orbit (@VirginOrbit) January 13, 2022

The payload included satellites for the US Department of Defense, Polish company SatRevolution and international company Spire Global.

It was Virgin Orbit’s third launch of satellites for customers. Two previous launches put several satellites into orbit in January and June 2021. The company’s first launch, a demonstration flight, failed in May 2020.

Virgin Orbit, founded in 2017 by British billionaire Richard Branson, went public last month. The company targets the small satellite launch market. It advertises the mobility of its air launch system compared to the limitations of fixed launch sites.

“The great thing about using a 747 is that we can launch it into any orbit from anywhere in the world,” said Branson of the British Virgin Islands during the company’s launch webcast.

“I think there are only a few countries in the world that are capable of sending satellites into space from their own countries, and now 480 countries can use Virgin Orbit,” he said. “All you have to do is call us.”

The company plans six launches this year, including two for the UK Royal Air Force, which will originate in Cornwall, south-west England. RAF test pilot Mathew “Stanny” Stannard flew the 747 from the main pilot’s seat on Thursday.

“This is going to be just an excellent year for us,” Chief Operating Officer Tony Gingiss said in a preflight briefing this week.

Gingiss said flight-over-flight has been continually improved.

“I think not only are we seeing the kind of rigor that we’re expecting, but we’re getting really great confidence in our processes,” he said.

Thursday’s mission was called “Above the Clouds,” a track taken from a track from hip-hop duo Gang Starr’s 1998 album “Moment of Truth,” released by Virgin Records.

Branson noted during his interview that his family contracted COVID-19 over Christmas.

“Fortunately, we’ve been vaccinated and refreshed, so none of us got it bad,” he said.

Check out the latest from the Consumer Electronics Show on Gadgets 360 in our CES 2022 hub.

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