Virgin Orbit has deployed seven cubesats for three customers into orbit onboard its LauncherOne rocket during the Above the Clouds mission.
Virgin Orbit’s 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl took off from Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 1:39 PM PST/09:39 PM UTC and flew to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands.
The launch was the company’s third successful flight, occurring less than one year from its first mission. Virgin Orbit has now delivered commercial, government, international, and national security satellites to space, including new Above the Clouds customer Spire Global, the US Department of Defense Space Test Programme and Polish company SatRevolution. This launch was awarded to Virgin Orbit through its subsidiary VOX Space by the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI) Initiative.
The satellites launched on the company’s latest mission include experiments in space-based communications, space debris detection, and in-space navigation and propulsion, as well as satellites that will serve the global agricultural sector. The launch brings the total number of satellites launched by Virgin Orbit to 26.
Virgin Orbit conducts its launches from under the wing of a modified 747 aircraft, and by flying the aircraft further out over the ocean, the company was able to launch on a trajectory no ground-launch rocket could have achieved.
Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said: “Our customers are starting to hear back from their satellites that are checking in from orbit — and for us, that’s what success looks like. It’s a thrill for our team that this mission included our first repeat customers as well as our first ‘last-minute ticket’ customers and reached an orbit that no one had ever reached from the West Coast before, all of which confirms the team’s ability to provide top tier launch service anywhere, anytime. On top of that, we flew through weather and a cloud layer that would have grounded any other launch I’ve worked on in my career, something only made possible by air-launch and our incredible team. We can say with confidence that in this new era of regular, frequent, successful missions, we can help our customers and partners use space technology to advance human knowledge and open space for good.”
VOX Space President Mark Baird, a retired US Air Force Brigadier General added: “This accomplishment today really shows the future of space launch capabilities, something that is of paramount importance to national security. We have the ability to launch anywhere, anytime and unwarned, which allows us to customise the launches to serve a government’s mission and goals, allowing us to be better mission partners in their space operations.”
Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson stated: “What an unforgettable experience to watch the Virgin Orbit team complete another perfect mission to space. I could not be prouder of the work they are doing. I am beaming alongside them. We supported experimental, important work for our three happy customers today. I congratulate them and our wonderful team.”
Above the Clouds is named after the fifth track on Gang Starr’s 1998 album Moment of Truth, featuring Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan. The record was released by Virgin Records in collaboration with Noo Trybe Records.