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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Virgin Orbit to send satellites to space for the first time

 Virgin Orbit — the sister company of billionaire Richard Branson’s space tourism outfit Virgin Galactic — will try a second test of its small satellite-launching rocket later today, months after it failed to reach orbit during a first attempt. It will also be the first time that the company tries to launch working satellites into space on behalf of NASA.

Virgin Orbit

Sometime after 1PM ET, Virgin Orbit’s customized Boeing 747 will take off from Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in the Mojave desert and ascend to 35,000 feet with the satellite-launching rocket attached to its wing. Once it reaches a predetermined location, the rocket is supposed to drop and ignite, taking the small satellites on board the rest of the way into orbit around the Earth. Virgin Orbit says the window for launch will last until 5PM ET.

Virgin Orbit tweeted Sunday morning that it’s aiming for takeoff at 10:30AM PT (1:30PM ET).

There is no live stream of the test, though the company plans to tweet updates throughout the flight. It will make photos and video available sometime after the test is completed

Virgin Orbit has spent years developing this method of airborne rocket-launching, and it has performed increasingly complex flight tests since 2018. But the first full test of the company’s rocket-launching capabilities in May of last year did not go completely as planned. The plane ascended correctly, the rocket dropped, and the main engine ignited. But a problem in the liquid oxygen fuel line prevented the rocket from reaching orbit.

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