Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit rocket finally reaches space

Gene Blevins / Reuters

For the first time, a Richard Branson Virgin Orbit rocket hits space (pictured on January 17, 2021 in Mojave, Calif. REUTERS / Gene Blevins)

TECHNO – Richard Branson’s company Virgin Orbit successfully sent a rocket into space from the wing of a Boeing 747 for the first time this Sunday, January 17, paving the way for a new way to place in orbit small satellites.

This was Virgin Orbit’s second attempt, after a failed test in May. “LauncherOne has reached orbit! Everyone on the team who is not on mission control right now has gone nuts, ”the company tweeted at 20:49 GMT.

The plane took off from Mojave Air and Space Port, in the desert north of Los Angeles (California, United States) and fired its rocket over the Pacific. Founded by British billionaire Richard Branson in 2012, Virgin Orbit aims to provide a fast and adaptable space launch service for small satellites weighing between 300 and 500 kg, a growing market.

The 21-meter Virgin Orbit rocket, dubbed LauncherOne, does not take off vertically, but is mounted under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 called “Cosmic Girl”. Once the correct altitude is reached, the plane releases the rocket, which starts its own engine to push itself into space and place its cargo in orbit.

Launching a rocket from an airplane is simpler than vertical takeoff because theoretically a simple airstrip is enough, instead of an expensive space launch pad.

Richard Branson has created another space company, Virgin Galactic, which aims to send tourists into space to experience weightlessness some 80km from the earth’s surface.

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