Virgin Orbit, start-up in the space sector supported by Richard Branson has taken a key step in its satellite launch process for commercial customers. The company successfully organized a "fall test" of its LauncherOne rocket, during which the essential part of its launch system was released in free fall from its Boeing 747 launch aircraft (nicknamed "Cosmic Girl").
LauncherOne was released at an altitude of 35,000 feet, which corresponds to a cruising altitude typical of commercial aircraft, which would be the case during a real launch. The Virgin Orbit model drives its rocket at this altitude before engaging the engine, which consumes much more energy and is less expensive than launching the rocket from the ground (this is what SpaceX done, for example).
During this test, the LauncherOne rocket did not engage its engine (and it is actually a large-scale fake rocket rather than a true one) once it broke off the 747 wing. modified, what she would do if it was the case. a real launch. Instead, it dropped to 35,000 feet on the ground, where it crashed into a planned drop zone of the Air Force Base Edward in the Mojave Desert.
Everything was planned, the main purpose of this fall test being to study the separation of the rocket from the launcher wing and to collect a number of sensor readings on the behavior of the rocket when it falls freely in the air.
Virgin Orbit is part of the Virgin space company duo, which also includes Virgin Galactic (which has announced its intention to become a publicly traded company earlier this week). Orbit's specific goal is to offer an affordable option for smallsat launches, a market where it will compete with Rocket Lab, which uses a more traditional ground-based rocket launch model.
The next step for Virgin Orbit is to build and assemble its first true orbital test rocket, which it plans to launch into space later this year.