Virgin Rolls Out 747 Rocket Launcher
Virgin Orbit has rolled out its solution for making space more accessible to those who want to put small payloads into orbit. The company has modified a Boeing 747-400 to take a 57,000-pound, 70-foot rocket on a launcher between the inboard left engine and the fuselage. The rocket, called LauncherOne, was lifted into place and readied for launch in less than 24 hours at Long Beach Airport. The plan is to make a series of test flights with the rocket attached to assess the flight characteristics of the combination before doing drop tests toward a live launch sometime in 2019.
The plane will take the rocket to about 35,000 feet before releasing it. The air launch method, which has been used by NASA, the military and private companies over the years, eliminates much of the time, expense and peril from conventional launch systems but payloads are limited. The Virgin Orbit system can hoist about 1,100 pounds to low-earth orbit. That’s attractive to many companies for communications, weather and various other sensing and relaying applications.