Marking the first payload carried by the LauncherOne rocket, Virgin Orbit’s 747-00 carrier, Cosmic Girl, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1:38 p.m. ET today. The LauncherOne rocket, attached to the underside of Cosmic Girl’s left wing, is the carrying CubeSats for the encapsulated Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 20 mission.
Once the aircraft reaches a specified altitude, the rocket will be released from the wing for a controlled drop over the Pacific Ocean. After dropping, LauncherOne’s NewtonThree first-stage engine will ignite, starting the launch sequence that will send the nine satellite missions into low-Earth orbit.
This is the first time Virgin Orbit has launched NASA payloads. In 2020, Virgin Orbit completed their first launch demo, validating that LauncherOne could be successfully air-launched from the company’s “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft.
A low-cost platform for agency missions, CubeSats and other small satellites are beginning to play a larger role in exploration, technology demonstration, scientific research, and educational investigations at NASA. Previously only available through pre-existing launch opportunities, dedicated launch opportunities are now available for CubeSats and other small payloads through the contracts managed by NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Services Program (LSP) in Florida.
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