Virgin Orbit Attempts First Nighttime Rocket Launch
Virgin Orbit is preparing to launch a two-stage rocket that’s carrying precious payloads for the U.S. Space Force. Known as the “Straight Up” mission, it’s scheduled to begin on Thursday at 1:00 a.m. ET from Mojave Air and Space Port in California—and you can catch the action live right here.
Virgin Orbit will livestream the event through the company’s YouTube Channel, which we’ve added below for your convenience. Coverage is expected to begin at 12:45 a.m. ET on June 30 (9:45 p.m. PT on June 29) and include pre-flight operations and launch commentary. You can also follow along for updates through Virgin Orbit’s Twitter account.
A Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft named Cosmic Girl will carry the two-stage rocket to high altitude. LauncherOne is secured to a pylon located beneath the aircraft’s left wing. Once at its target location some 35,000 feet (10,700 meters) above the Pacific ocean, the plane will release the rocket, which will then continue on its journey to Earth orbit. LauncherOne will attempt to deliver seven satellites to destinations 300 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth’s surface and at a 45-degree inclination.
The satellites belong to multiple government agencies as part of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program and will be used to test space-based communications and in-space navigation, and to monitor the effects of climate change, according to Virgin Orbit. The Straight Up mission is part of a three-launch Space Force contract awarded to the private company in April 2020. Virgin Orbit began operating LauncherOne in June 2021 after the rocket successfully pulled off its second test flight that took place earlier that same year.
This nighttime launch—the first for Virgin Orbit—is an effort to expand upon the company’s liftoff capabilities. “Our hardware is in top-notch condition, and the team is performing exceptionally, as we prepare for our first night-time launch,” Tyler Grinnell, vice president of Test, Flight and Launch for Virgin Orbit, said in a statement. “The perspective we’ve gained from each previous launch is really paying off now.”
Thursday’s launch will mark the fifth for Virgin Orbit (including two tests), and the second this year. That said, the company will need to speed things up if it is to deliver on its earlier projection of four to six launches a year.