"It marks the first time a 747 has carried a rocket, let alone a space rocket, in its 70 year history and is a big step forward for the company as we look forward to reaching orbit in early 2019," wrote Virgin's Richard Branson in a blog post following the successful test flight. "I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with the team on several occasions recently and see first-hand the progress being made. There are many challenges to overcome ahead, but the excellent data and performance in all aspects of this latest test flight is really encouraging. I’m looking forward to our first space shot in early 2019 and multiple trips to orbit in the year ahead."
Virgin Orbit plans to use the 747-400, dubbed "Cosmic Girl," as an air-based launching point for rockets as a means to deliver satellites into space. With the jet showing it can fly safely with the rocket attached, the company's next test, the rocket will be released without igniting to study the effects on "Cosmic Girl" and the rocket, which will fall back to earth.
The custom wing pylon that carries the rocket can hold up to 85,000 pounds (38.555 kg), and the jet is crewed by a pilot and co-pilot, along with two engineers. Virgin expects to build 24 rockets, called "LauncherOne" by the company, annually at its Long Beach, Calif., facility. The rocket can run for six minutes over multiple burns with a 17,500 mile per hour (281635 kph) top speed.
"We’ve been building, developing and improving LauncherOne since 2012, and after more than half a decade of real-world testing results, we think we’ve finally hit the sweet spot between our rocket’s size, cost and payload mass to orbit," the company wrote on its technology page.
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