Cosmic Girl takes Virgin Orbit rocket for first flight

Plane-assisted rocket will launch small satellites

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Launcher One, mated to Virgin Orbit's 747 Cosmic Girl, took its first flight to above 18,000 feet on Sunday Nov. 18, 2019. (Image credit: Virgin Orbit)

San Bernardino County, California - A modified 747 airplane named Cosmic Girl took an unusual carry-on tucked under its wing for a flight into the Southern California skies over the weekend: a 70-foot rocket.

Cosmic Girl traded in her flight attendant hat for a flight suit. The Boeing 747 was previously a Virgin Atlantic commercial jetliner before being retrofitted for Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket.

The commercial space company under the Virgin Group umbrella, founded by Sir Richard Branson, plans to start launching missions into orbit with the rocket LauncherOne early next year.

Virgin Orbit Special Projects Vice President Will Pomerantz said Cosmic Girl took off from the Victorville airport in San Bernardino County, California on Sunday and reached an altitude of more than 18,000 feet before returning to the airport.

When Launcher One is on a real mission, Cosmic Girl will fly to above 30,000 feet, drop the rocket and get a nice healthy head start away before LauncherOne's ignition.

The flight marks the first time a 747 has carried a rocket in its 70-year history, according to Virgin Orbit. 

Cosmic Girl completed "a flawless test flight," with the rocket under its wing. Branson said in a blog post the data and performance from the test flight was encouraging.

The 747 has more test flights coming up before the first launch to space, which Pomerantz said will be a Virgin Orbit item.

Among the first paying customers on LauncherOne will be several NASA-selected payloads, including one for the University of Central Florida's Physics department.

Virgin Orbit also has a contract signed with satellite manufacture OneWeb for 39 satellites.

Companies looking to launch small satellites with Launcher One can buy the entire vehicle, which is about the size of 25 cars, or part of it and ride-share.

In true California style, LauncherOne mission control will be out of a converted Hollywood movie trailer.

Launcher One, mated to Virgin Orbit's 747 Cosmic Girl, took its first flight to above Southern California on Sunday Nov. 18, 2019. (Image credit: Virgin Orbit)

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