Virgin Orbit closes in on launching rocket from 747 jet, attempting to reach low-Earth orbit

Company hopes to send 10 NASA satellites into space

MOJAVE, Calif. – As soon as next week, crews with Virgin Orbit could try again at taking off from the California desert, flying a jumbo jet over the Pacific Ocean and air launching a rocket.

Virgin Orbit said an engine shutdown kept the 70-foot-long LauncherOne rocket from reaching orbit during an air launch last May.

This time, Richard Branson’s company hopes to send 10 NASA satellites into space.

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Virgin Orbit said LauncherOne carries smaller satellites.

Friday, the company compared the sizes to home appliances - from as big as a refrigerator to as small as a toaster oven.

“Giving a ride to experimental payloads on early launches that do carry a little bit more risk, and also gives the opportunity for payloads that may or may not otherwise have the opportunity to find space,” CEO Dan Hart said.

Virgin Orbit plans to eventually send commercial and government satellites to the Moon, Mars, Venus, and even asteroids.

For this mission, some of the NASA satellites on board are designed to study the weather in space and pick up space debris.

Virgin Orbit said the 747′s four or five crew members will fly to 35,000 feet before the big drop.

“We are working vigorously and looking at all the details making sure we have the best shot possible to get to orbit,” Hart said.

Pending final reviews, the latest launch time is Wednesday 7 a.m. west coast time.

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