A number of companies are exploring ways to launch a rocket not from a launchpad, but from a plane in flight. Now Richard Branson wants to do it, too.
Virgin Orbit, part of Branson’s aerospace business, has successfully attached a rocket to a 747 jet. The first-ever 747 converted to carry rockets is called Cosmic Girl, and the rocket is called LauncherOne. By carrying the rocket to 35,000 feet before launch, Cosmic Girl can release LauncherOne to deploy small-scale satellites without relying on—and paying for—the traditional ground launch.
Virgin Orbit explained in a press release:
“Air launch frees missions from traffic jams at the existing launch sites; eliminates the need for costly, fixed ground infrastructure; and makes the system more resilient to unfavorable weather conditions.”
Virgin isn’t charting new territory here. Orbital ATK, purchased in June by aerospace and defence juggernaut Northrop Grumman, first launched its Pegasus rocket from a converted aircraft called Stargazer in 1990 and successfully sent 44 payloads into space before Pegasus’s last launch in 2016. Perhaps the best-known current project in this space is Stratolaunch Systems, the aerospace company founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen that is known for its hulking six-engined plane.
Branson described LauncherOne in a blog post last weekend:
“At 70 feet, it is twice the length of a London bus and will travel at more than 20 times the speed of sound. The rocket weighs 57,000 pounds, which is the equivalent to 25 small family cars.”
The company plans to conduct test flights before officially embarking on launches for the Department of Defense, the Italian satellite manufacturer Sitael, and other contractors starting in 2021.
Source: Business Insider
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics