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Small satellite launcher Virgin Orbit conducts dress rehearsal ahead of its first test flight

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On Sunday, small satellite tv for pc launcher Virgin Orbit did an intricate costume rehearsal of the way it plans to launch rockets into house — with out really sending any rockets anyplace. The profitable demonstration doubtlessly paves the way in which for the corporate’s first take a look at launch someday this 12 months.

As a substitute of launching its autos vertically from the bottom — like most different rocket firms — Virgin Orbit plans to launch them from midair. The corporate has developed a small rocket known as LauncherOne, which is designed to take off from below the wing of the corporate’s large 747 airplane nicknamed Cosmic Woman. The airplane is supposed to fly to an altitude of 35,000 toes, and from there, LauncherOne will fall from the wing and ignite its fundamental engine. It’ll then climb the remainder of the way in which to house.

Virgin Orbit has been going via a rigorous take a look at program earlier than its first launch — a course of that has entailed testing LauncherOne’s engines on the bottom, doing periodic flights with Cosmic Woman, and extra. The corporate has additionally been doing incremental demonstration missions with each the rocket and the airplane. First, Virgin Orbit flew Cosmic Woman with a dummy rocket hooked up, stuffed with water to simulate how LauncherOne will weigh when it’s loaded with propellant. And in July, the corporate really dropped LauncherOne from Cosmic Woman, to see if the rocket fell as anticipated.

Throughout Sunday’s flight, Virgin Orbit ran via each a part of the method of launching LauncherOne with out the precise takeoff. The corporate stuffed LauncherOne up with liquid nitrogen, which is analogous in temperature to the extraordinarily chilly liquid oxygen propellant the rocket will carry when it’s set to fly. Cosmic Woman then took off from Virgin Orbit’s services in Mojave, California, and went via an everyday flight plan for a launch.

The airplane flew to the precise place over the ocean the place LauncherOne will drop throughout its first take a look at. It even did the identical pull-up maneuver it’ll just do earlier than LauncherOne releases from the wing, which is supposed to place the car on the proper angle for moving into orbit. For this costume rehearsal, the chilly rocket remained hooked up, and the airplane returned to Mojave afterward.

Virgin Orbit claims the demonstration went nicely and says it’s going to present extra particulars about its plans for its first take a look at launch quickly. The timing of that take a look at launch stays unsure. The corporate has fully reorganized its enterprise operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As much as 90 % of Virgin Orbit’s workforce is staying at residence, and the corporate has made some main modifications to its services, based on a weblog submit:

We reconfigured our Mission Management. We re-wrote procedures for our technicians on the store flooring and on the take a look at website to be able to meet social distancing necessities. We had been already accustomed to utilizing Private Protecting Tools throughout lots of our operations — however now we’re ramping up our requirements to match the newest pointers from the CDC and different main medical specialists. And naturally, we’re spending additional time recurrently sterilizing each sq. inch of our manufacturing facility, continually educating our workers, and far more.

Due to all these modifications, the corporate says there are nonetheless some extra rehearsals to do earlier than that first launch in order that staff can run via operations with the entire new COVID-19 procedures in place. However Virgin Orbit says that its inaugural launch “might be squarely in our sights.”

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