Virgin Galactic’s satellite-focused offshoot Virgin Orbit will soon launch small satellites from Cosmic Girl, a 747-400 launch platform that recently rolled onto Long Beach Airport after a flurry of modifications.
Virgin Orbit lauded the plane’s return in a press release on Tuesday. The plane returned from inspection and modification performed by L3 Platform Integration and VT Aerospace. It has now been issued an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate by the FAA, which means that flight tests can now begin at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The plane, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, will bring the LauncherOne rocket to about 35,000 feet during satellite delivery missions. The rocket will then fly to orbit under its own power. It is capable of carrying 300 kilograms to a 500 kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.
Virgin Orbit chose the 747-400 because of its large size and sturdiness, its operational flexibility, long range, proven reliability in various types of weather, and the reliability of the existing 747-400 experience, maintenance, and space parts supply chains.
“Long Beach has long been the home of aerospace innovation, and we are thrilled that after months of significant modification work, Cosmic Girl, our first stage to orbit, is finally home,” said Virgin CEO Dan Hart. “Virgin Orbit is in the home stretch of integrating our LauncherOne rocket and ground systems for launch and to support our customers’ missions.”
“It has been amazing to watch Cosmic Girl transform from a commercial airliner to a flying Launchpad,” said Virgin Orbit Vice President of Launch Tim Buzza. “We are excited to begin our flight test program and continue towards our vision of launching anyone, anywhere, any time.”
The company expects to send Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne on their first mission in the first half of 2018.
Cosmic Girl is piloted by Kelly Latimer and Richard Nelson.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense