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Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
July 10, 2019 Stephen Clark


A full-scale mock-up of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket falls away from a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet Wednesday over the Mojave Desert of California. Credit: Virgin Orbit

A full-scale model of Virgin Orbit’s air-dropped small satellite launcher, filled with water and antifreeze instead of rocket fuel, fell away from the wing of a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet Wednesday and impacted on a test range at Edwards Air Force Base in California, a key test that paves the way for the company’s first space mission later this year.

Backed by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Orbit aims to carve out a slice of the growing small satellite launch market alongside Rocket Lab and other companies.

Wednesday’s drop test was the last major milestone in Virgin Orbit’s test program, signaling the start of a transition from rocket development to launch operations, according to Dan Hart, the company’s CEO.

“We have a very happy team up here in Mojave,” Hart told Spaceflight Now after Wednesday’s test. “The flight crew was just grins when they got off the airplane, and there are a lot of high-fives and hugs going on here.”

Established in 2017 as a spinoff from Virgin Galactic, Branson’s suborbital space tourism company, Virgin Orbit plans to base its early missions from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, then branch out to other airports. Future LauncherOne staging bases could be located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Cornwall Airport Newquay in southwest England, Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Italy, a location in Guam, and an airport in Japan.

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, named “Cosmic Girl,” took off from Mojave on Wednesday morning and climbed to 35,000 feet (nearly 10,700 meters). Pilots Kelly Latimer and Todd Ericson pointed the jumbo jet upward at an angle of more than 25 degrees, then commanded the release of the LauncherOne vehicle from a pylon under the 747’s left wing around 9:13 a.m. PDT (12:13 p.m. EDT; 1613 GMT), mimicking maneuvers they will execute during a real launch.

Four Virgin Orbit engineers were also aboard the carrier jet Wednesday.


Cytuj
Virgin Orbit@Virgin_Orbit · Jul 10, 2019
Oh, and by the way, we've already started work on the next rocket, and the one after that, and the one after that too.  END THREAD


Now THAT’s what I call a drop test! Video from today’s very successful drop test of our #LauncherOne small satellite launch vehicle. More photos and videos coming soon.
Twitter

On an actual mission, the two-stage LauncherOne vehicle will be filled with liquid rocket propellants. For Wednesday’s test, ground crews loaded the tanks with water and antifreeze to simulate the propellant, giving the rocket a weight of about 57,000 pounds (about 26 metric tons).

Engineers planned the drop test to gather data on the aerodynamic loads the carrier aircraft will experience when it sheds the nearly 30-ton rocket. Virgin Orbit also wanted to observe how the instrumented LauncherOne test vehicle performed in the first few seconds after release.

Reports from the 747 flight crew, and a quick-look review of video and telemetry data, suggested everything worked perfectly Wednesday.

The drop test was the culmination of a series of captive carry test flights since November with the inert LauncherOne vehicle under the 747 carrier jet, a former passenger airliner operated by sister company Virgin Atlantic. Ground crews stripped around 30 tons of weight and passenger seats from the airplane to allow it to haul the LauncherOne rocket aloft.

“It’s been a long and hard flight test program, as flight test programs often are, and this is our capstone event, so we’re pretty happy about it,” Hart said. “The system performed really, really well.”

“The whole flight went incredibly well,” said Latimer, Virgin Orbit’s chief test pilot, in a statement. “The release was extremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely. There was a small roll with the aircraft, just as we expected. Everything matched what we’d seen in the simulators well — in fact, the release dynamics and the aircraft handling qualities were both better than we expected. This was the best kind of test flight sortie from a test pilot’s perspective — an uneventful one.”

Virgin Orbit intended the drop test as a full-up practice run to gain confidence as engineers head into the company’s first launch campaign.

“Except for the geography — we flew over Edwards — everything else was an exact mission simulation, including having our ground tracking and S-band (telemetry system) going with all the data transmitting,” Hart said. “We had a guidance system operating so we could fully understand how the vehicle was operating on the way down.”

During LauncherOne’s first orbital mission, the carrier aircraft will depart Mojave and head over the Pacific Ocean to release the rocket, which will ignite moments later to climb into space.

The 70-foot-long (21-meter) two-stage LauncherOne vehicle is designed to propel payloads of up to 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) into a low-altitude equatorial orbit, or up to 661 pounds (300 kilograms) to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous polar orbit.

Virgin Orbit is selling LauncherOne missions for around $12 million, and has already cinched contracts with NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and several commercial customers.


Drop test signals Virgin Orbit’s transition into launch operations

The next time “Cosmic Girl” takes to the skies with a rocket, it will carry aloft a space-worthy version of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, a vehicle now being assembled inside the company’s factory in Long Beach, California.

“This was really the last big non-mission demonstration test, so starting this afternoon, we’re in pre-launch mode,” Hart said Wednesday.

If everything goes according to plan, Hart said LauncherOne could launch into orbit by the end of the summer,

Engineers finished a series of hold-down engine firings in May to qualify the rocket’s propulsion systems for flight.

The NewtonThree engine on the first stage will generate 73,500 pounds of thrust in vacuum, firing for around three minutes on each mission. The second stage’s NewtonFour engine will ramp up to 5,000 pounds of thrust, and can be reignited in space to maneuver into different orbits.


<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2_i2GfiULc" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2_i2GfiULc</a>
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2_i2GfiULc

At Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach factory, technicians are finishing assembly of the first LauncherOne vehicle to fire into space. They plan to mate the rocket’s two stages later this month, officials said, then hand over the launcher to Virgin Orbit’s operations team.

The rocket will trucked to Mojave for attachment to the “Cosmic Girl” jumbo jet.

“We have a rocket in the factory,” Hart said. “It’s integrated. It’s been through some of the more complex integrated system checkouts. We’ve still got a little ways to go, but if everything goes well, we’ll have it delivered, and we’ll start doing wet dress rehearsals, and the kinds of things you do before you actually launch a rocket for the first time.”

The wet dress rehearsals will involve filling the rocket with cryogenic fluid for the first time to practice fueling operations.

“Part of our first flight campaign will be to take our flight rocket and do one flight test with cryogenics on-board before launch,” Hart said. “We plan to use liquid nitrogen, so we don’t have our first time with cryogenics with liquid oxygen. That’s the way we kind of ease into that first flight.”

Unlike Northrop Grumman’s air-launched Pegasus rocket, which burns pre-packed solid propellant, the liquid-fueled LauncherOne vehicle will rely on cryogenic liquid oxygen chilled colder than minus 298 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 183 degrees Celsius).

The LauncherOne engines will consume liquid oxygen in a mixture with rocket-grade kerosene.



Virgin Orbit’s first LauncherOne vehicle to head into space is completing final assembly in Long Beach, California. Credit: Virgin Orbit

Cryogenic fluids boil off if they get too warm. Rockets launched from the ground typically have their cryogenic propellant supplies continuously replenished until just before liftoff to ensure the tanks are full, but LauncherOne will be disconnected from its propellant supply before takeoff.

LauncherOne’s liquid oxygen tanks are coated with spray-on foam insulation to keep the cryogenic fluid insulated during the climb to the rocket’s release altitude.

“Boil-off has been a focus, but we’ve got the system balanced with the right kind of insulation to where that’s not an issue,” Hart said.

Virgin Orbit’s first test launch could happen in the next two months, Hart told Spaceflight Now on Wednesday.

“If all goes well — and we do have some data to look at and some more testing to do — we’re targeting (a launch) before the end of the summer,” Hart said.

There are no customer satellites on the first LauncherOne mission to orbit.

“It’ll be an engineering test,” Hart said. “We’ll have a payload because we do want to verify payload activities, as well as our payload operations, but it’s an engineering payload, essentially, for the flight test.”


Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2019/07/10/drop-test-moves-virgin-orbit-closer-to-first-satellite-launch/

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Marzec 21, 2020, 20:37 »
Virgin Orbit to add extra rocket stage to LauncherOne for interplanetary missions
by Caleb Henry — October 24, 2019 [SN]


Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket mated to the company's Cosmic Girl plane during tests in October 2018. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit, while preparing for the first flight of its LauncherOne smallsat rocket, is in the process of choosing an engine for a three-stage variant that would be capable of sending payloads to other planets.

John Fuller, Virgin Orbit advanced concepts director, said the company is deciding between three “highly energetic third stage” options for LauncherOne that would enable the rocket to launch up to 50 kilograms to Mars or 70 kilograms to Venus. The “Exploration 3-Stage Variant” of LauncherOne would also have the ability to launch around 100 kilograms to the moon or toward Lagrange points, he said.

“What we do is we take that third stage and bring the overall impulse of the vehicle up to a point where we can reach very high energies to launch to cis-lunar, interplanetary or even asteroid targets,” Fuller said Oct. 24 at the 70th International Astronautical Congress here.

LauncherOne is a two-stage liquid-propellent rocket Virgin Orbit plans to launch from the wing of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. The rocket is designed to launch 300 to 500 kilograms to low Earth orbit, with the exact amount determined by orbital inclination.

Virgin Orbit still anticipates completing the maiden flight of its normal two-stage LauncherOne rocket this year, Fuller said. A “very large contingent” of Virgin Orbit staff are in Mojave, California, right now preparing the first rocket, he said. They will attach the rocket to Cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbit’s structurally enhanced Boeing 747, and will run it through a series of “wet dress rehearsals” where the rocket is fueled up but not launched, before conducting the actual mission, he said.

Fuller estimated Virgin Orbit will choose a third stage for LauncherOne in “the next month or two.” Pacing that decision is a Mars mission Virgin Orbit plans to launch for Polish satellite manufacturer SatRevolution in the third quarter of 2022, he said.

Virgin Orbit announced forming a consortium with SatRevolution and close to a dozen Polish universities Oct. 9 aimed at conducting the first commercial smallsat mission to Mars.

Fuller said Virgin Orbit would reveal pricing for interplanetary missions soon.


Source: https://spacenews.com/virgin-orbit-to-add-extra-rocket-stage-to-launcherone-for-interplanetary-missions/

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #2 dnia: Marzec 21, 2020, 20:38 »
Virgin Orbit working toward first launch, schedule reassessed amid pandemic
by Sandra Erwin — March 19, 2020 [SN]


The LauncherOne that Virgin Orbit will use for its first orbital launch attempt is now in Mojave, California, for final tests. Credit: Virgin Orbit

LauncherOne rockets, made in Long Beach, California, will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft.

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit is reassessing the schedule for the first orbital flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, which had been scheduled for April.

“We’re mindful that COVID-19 is putting added burdens and stresses on our teams and leaders, so we are assessing things daily and keeping momentum up as best we can while doing everything we can to protect the health of our people,” Virgin Orbit spokesman Kendall Russell told SpaceNews March 19 in a statement.

“This is all taking place at the most critical phase of our prelaunch operations,” said Russell. “We’re moving aggressively to protect our team and our families, and we’re monitoring the situation closely.”

Like most businesses, Virgin Orbit has a large portion of its workforce telecommuting. “At present, we’ve been able to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for the crews who need to be physically on site in order to advance our launch campaign,” said Russell.

LauncherOne rockets, made in Long Beach, California, will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft. The vehicle is being offered to government and commercial customers as a flexible launch service that can operate from locations around the world.

The company earlier this month performed a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It was a taxi test of the aircraft with a liquid-fueled LauncherOne vehicle attached to it, said Mandy Vaughn, president of Virgin Orbit’s sister company VOX Space. The next step before the orbital launch will be a captive carry test flight with the rocket attached to the plane.

VOX Space, headquartered in El Segundo, California, provides small satellite launch services to the U.S. government.

Later in the year Virgin Orbit plans to conduct its first military launch for the U.S. Space Force from Guam, in the Western Pacific.

Before it flies the DoD mission, Virgin Orbit has to complete the test flight, a launch for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program and several commercial launches for undisclosed customers, Vaughn told SpaceNews.

Vaughn said LauncherOne can fly from almost any runway. The current carrier aircraft is a passenger jet but in the future the company might consider modifying a freighter plane that could transport the launcher vehicle to the launch location. “That could open up other con-ops [concepts of operations] to ship equipment around the world,” said Vaughn.

For the launch from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, “we’re leveraging no infrastructure from the base itself other than the runway and the allocated piece of tarmac where we can load the rocket and service the rocket,” Vaughn said.

Guam is a desirable launch site for many reasons, she said. “Rather than having to fly out of Florida and perform a big dog leg maneuver to be able to get to an equatorial orbit, we’d rather just fly the airplane to the right latitude and launch.” Guam is a “great low inclination launch site for commercial and DoD missions.”


Source: https://spacenews.com/virgin-orbit-working-toward-first-launch-schedule-reassessed-amid-pandemic/

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #3 dnia: Marzec 21, 2020, 20:54 »
Virgin Orbit’s space launch business deemed ‘essential service,’ work allowed to continue at Long Beach
by Sandra Erwin — March 21, 2020 [SN]


Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket and carrier aircraft. Credit: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit spokesman: “Unavoidably, this will have some impact on our launch date, and on the launches that immediately follow."

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit announced March 20 that it will continue operations at its facility in Long Beach, California, after state officials categorized the work as an essential service that should not be completely shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 19, California, Los Angeles County and Long Beach issued a series of “Safer at Home” orders that closed all non-essential businesses and requires most of the state’s 40 million inhabitants to stay at home until further notice. The city, county, and state orders provide exemptions for certain businesses and industries deemed essential services.

“In conversations with our representatives, we have learned that our work of developing and operating our flexible, responsive space launch system for our customers, including those at NASA and in the U.S. Department of Defense, has been deemed as one such essential service, and that therefore we have been exempted from many of the “Safer At Home” shelter in place restrictions,” Virgin Orbit Kendall Russell said in a statement.

“We take that responsibility seriously, and we will continue our essential work with fierce determination and perseverance,” the statement said.

To prevent the spread of the virus, Virgin Orbit will be sending all employees home for the next week except a “small crew necessary to assure the safety and security of the facility,” said Russell. “Those employees who can do their work remotely will do so; and those who cannot work remotely will still be paid in full.”

Amid the pandemic, Virgin Orbit is reassessing the schedule for the first orbital flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, which had been scheduled for April.

LauncherOne rockets, made in Long Beach, will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft. The vehicle intends to provide government and commercial customers a flexible launch service that can operate from locations around the world.

“Unavoidably, this will have some impact on our launch date, and on the launches that immediately follow,” Russell said. But because of the “essential services” classification from local, state, and federal governments, “we are working to minimize that disruption while ensuring the health of our team.”


Source: https://spacenews.com/virgin-orbits-space-launch-business-deemed-essential-service-work-allowed-to-continue-at-long-beach/

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #3 dnia: Marzec 21, 2020, 20:54 »

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #4 dnia: Kwiecień 14, 2020, 12:56 »
Virgin Orbit completes final major test before first LauncherOne flight
by Jeff Foust — April 12, 2020 [SN]


Virgin Orbit's "Cosmic Girl" 747 aircraft, with a LauncherOne rocket attached, performs a final captive carry flight April 12 before the company's first orbital launch attempt. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit completed a captive carry test flight of its LauncherOne system April 12, the final major milestone before the company performs its first orbital launch attempt.

The company’s modified Boeing 747 aircraft, with a LauncherOne rocket attached to its left wing, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 2:23 p.m. Eastern. The plan flew out over the Pacific Ocean south of Santa Barbara to simulate a launch before returning back to Mojave, with the rocket still attached, about two hours later.

Virgin Orbit had performed captive carry test flights in the past, but this was the first with a flight version of LauncherOne, filled with RP-1 fuel and liquid nitrogen, attached. During the flight, the plane tested the launch release maneuver, where the plane pulls up sharply after releasing the rocket.

In an April 10 statement, Virgin Orbit described then-upcoming flight as a “a complete, end-to-end launch rehearsal” of the aircraft and ground operations, with the exception of using liquid nitrogen, a safer alternative to the liquid oxygen propellant used for LauncherOne. That test, the company said, was also “the last major step prior to our Launch Demo,” or first orbital launch attempt.

Virgin Orbit had planned to carry out the captive carry flight earlier this year, but was delayed in part by the coronavirus pandemic. While among the many space companies considered “essential” by government agencies and thus allowed to remain open, Virgin Orbit sent its staff home with pay for a week last month both to allow them to deal with the dislocations caused by the pandemic as well as to adjust its procedures to allow for on-site operations to continue safely.

That work, Virgin Orbit said in the earlier statement, included reconfiguring its mission control center and rewriting procedures on the shop floor to comply with recommended physical distancing. It is also more frequently cleaning workspaces and increasing use of personal protective equipment. Even with those changes, the company estimates that up to 90% of its employees are still working remotely.

The captive carry test is the last major test before the company’s first launch attempt. “Of course, we’ll first pore over the data from this captive carry flight, and we’ll run through a few last rehearsals, giving the team a few additional chances to practice their jobs with our new COVID-19 procedures in place,” the company stated. “But the Launch Demo will be squarely in our sights.”

Virgin Orbit didn’t state exactly how long it would be before that orbital launch attempt could take place. Previously, company officials estimated they would be ready for the launch as soon as a couple weeks after the captive carry test flight.


Source: https://spacenews.com/virgin-orbit-completes-final-major-test-before-first-launcherone-flight/

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Virgin Orbit schedules its first orbital test launch this weekend
May 21, 2020 Stephen Clark [SFN]


A full-scale mock-up of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket falls away from a modified Boeing 747 carrier jet during an inert drop test in July 2019 over the Mojave Desert of California. Credit: Virgin Orbit

The first orbital test flight of Virgin Orbit’s privately-developed air-launched rocket is scheduled as soon as Sunday off the coast of Southern California, the company said Wednesday.

Designed to deliver small satellites into orbit, the LauncherOne vehicle has a four-hour window Sunday opening at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT; 1700 GMT) to head into space after release from the belly of Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 carrier aircraft. A backup launch opportunity is available at the same time Monday.

(...)
Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/05/21/virgin-orbit-schedules-its-first-orbital-test-launch-for-this-weekend/

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #6 dnia: Maj 24, 2020, 04:14 »
[SN] Virgin Orbit ready for first orbital launch attempt

Virgin Orbit ready for first orbital launch attempt
by Jeff Foust — May 20, 2020 [SN]


Virgin Orbit's "Cosmic Girl" 747 aircraft, with a LauncherOne rocket attached, performs a final captive carry flight April 12 before the company's first orbital launch attempt. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit announced May 20 it will make the first flight of its LauncherOne air-launched vehicle as soon as May 24, but is setting modest expectations about the probability of success.

The company said in a statement that it current plans to perform its inaugural LauncherOne mission May 24, with “Cosmic Girl,” the company’s modified Boeing 747, flying out of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. A four-hour launch window starts at 1 p.m. Eastern. The company has reserved a backup launch date for May 25, during the same four-hour window.

(...)
Source: https://spacenews.com/virgin-orbit-ready-for-first-orbital-launch-attempt/

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Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #7 dnia: Maj 24, 2020, 04:23 »
Virgin Orbit sets expectations for first launch
by Jeff Foust — May 23, 2020 [SN]


A drop test of a LauncherOne test article in July 2019. The company is ready for its first orbital launch attempt May 24, but cautions first launches of any new vehicle are inherently risky. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit says that it’s ready for its first orbital launch attempt, scheduled for May 24, while acknowledging potentially long odds of successfully placing a payload into orbit.

Company executives said in a May 23 media call that final preparations for the inaugural LauncherOne mission are proceeding, with a “green board” and no weather concerns. Takeoff of “Cosmic Girl,” the Boeing 747 that serves as the air-launch platform for the LauncherOne rocket, is scheduled for about 12:30 p.m. Eastern from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, with release of the rocket 45 to 60 minutes later.

(...)
Source: https://spacenews.com/virgin-orbit-sets-expectations-for-first-launch/

Polskie Forum Astronautyczne

Odp: [SFN] Drop test moves Virgin Orbit closer to first satellite launch
« Odpowiedź #7 dnia: Maj 24, 2020, 04:23 »