Virgin Orbit carries out its first night mission for the US Space Force

Virgin Orbit has ticked off another milestone for its fledgling launch business, successfully carrying out its first night-time mission over the weekend and deploying satellites into low-Earth orbit. The flight is the first of three the company will carry out for the United States Space Force as it eyes international expansion of its operations.

Virgin Orbit finally commenced commercial operations last June following years of development and test flights. The company’s approach to satellite launches involves a modified 747 that takes off from conventional airport runways and releases a rocket called LauncherOne from high altitude. This rocket then fires up its own engines to carry on to orbit with the customer’s payload.

The weekend’s “Straight Up” mission saw the LauncherOne system loaded up with seven satellites for the US Space Force. The Cosmic Girl mothership took off from the bare concrete runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 10:50 pm local time on Friday, and around two hours later all seven satellite were successfully deployed.

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl mothership on the runway
Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl mothership on the runway

Virgin Orbit/Dae Dae

“We are honored to be supporting and delivering for the US Space Force and the US Department of Defense at such a critical juncture for national security space, our nation, and our world,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “An incredibly talented Virgin Orbit team and our LauncherOne system continue to demonstrate a track record of success for our spacecraft customers and that was confirmed again today.”

The flight marks the successful completion of four consecutive missions for Virgin Orbit. The maiden night-time voyage comes as the company continues working to demonstrate the flexibility and responsiveness of its approach to launching satellites, a vision that involves an ability to launch from anywhere in the world. It will take some steps in this direction with its first international launch scheduled for later this year with the UK Space Agency and Royal Air Force at Space Port Cornwall, which will double as the first ever orbital launch from UK soil.

“The LauncherOne rocket and Virgin Orbit team have made me immensely proud with today’s Straight Up mission,” said Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson. “There is so much potential benefit for everyone from space if we just manage it well together. We are delighted for the opportunity to work with the US government to help make space a safe and fruitful environment for all.”

A full webcast of the Straight Up mission can be viewed below.

Virgin Orbit’s Straight Up Mission

Source: Virgin Orbit

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