Virgin Orbit is making final preparations for its Straight Up mission as it seeks to rival SpaceX and Rocket Lab for small satellite deployments.
The mission, currently scheduled for launch Wednesday, June 29 at 10:00 p.m. PT from Mojave Air and Space Port, California, will deploy payloads for the Department of Defense’s space test program and will mark the company’s first nighttime launch.
Straight Up will be Virgin Orbit’s first mission since January 2022 and fourth overall. The target orbit for this week’s mission is approximately 500 kilometers above the Earth’s surface at an inclination of 45 degrees, an orbit the company says no other system has reached from the West Coast.
“Our hardware is in excellent condition and the team is doing a great job as we prepare for our first night launch,” said Virgin Executive Tyler Grinnell said in a release. “The perspective we’ve gained at every previous launch is really paying off now. Our crews in the sky and on the ground are ready to continue advancing our mission of getting our customers’ satellites exactly where they need to go.”
While SpaceX and Rocket Lab use traditional ground launch to send their rockets and payloads into space, Virgin Orbit is attaching its 70-foot LauncherOne booster to a modified Boeing 747 for an air launch. Once the plane is clear of the clouds at an altitude of about 30,000 feet, the pilots trigger the booster, which then ignites before carrying its payload into space.
According to Virgin Orbit, its small satellite launch system offers distinct advantages over its competitors’ offerings, allowing its missions to be carried out faster, from more locations and at a lower cost. The following video explains:
Virgin Orbit was founded by Richard Branson in 2017. After extensive testing, the first commercial flight took place in 2021. Missions to date have put a number of commercial, civil, national security and international satellites into orbit.
In other space news, Rocket Lab canceled Monday’s launch of the moon-bound Capstone spacecraft to give it more time to conduct final checks.
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