VirginOrbit completes keydrop test

Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, has successfully completed a keydrop test of its LauncherOne vehicle, the last major step in the development programof the company’s novel launch service. In the run-up to its first space shot, VirginOrbit has completed a steady progression of test flights with its “flying launch pad”

Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne vehicle — and today’s achievement marks the beginning of the company’s transition to its orbital test flight launch campaign. On this flight, Virgin Orbit released a fully built, fully loaded — although inert —LauncherOne rocket from Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 that serves as the rocket’s carrier aircraft. This latest test flight began with a takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port at Mojave, CA, at 8:43 A.M. Pacific; the drop itself occurred at 9:13 A.M. Pacific from an altitude of 35,000 feet over a testing range at Edwards Air Force Base.

The primary purpose of the test was to monitor the few critical seconds just after release, to ensure the rocket and aircraft separate cleanly and to observe how the rocket freefalls through the air. The drop test represents the last major step of a development program that began in 2015, focused not just on designing the LauncherOne vehicle but proving it out alongside the modified 747 that serves as the company’s carrier aircraft.

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