Home >Science >News >WATCH: Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit puts first satellites into space

Billionaire's Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said.

The orbital-rocket system put its first satellites into space, after a previous attempt failed in May.

Virgin Orbit said a Boeing Co. 747 named Cosmic Girl took off from California on Sunday carrying the company’s LauncherOne rocket, which was then released and ignited before successfully reaching orbit. It then deployed its payload: nine miniature satellites known as CubeSats developed by NASA.

“LauncherOne has now completed its first mission to space," the company said on Instagram. “Today’s sequence of events for #LaunchDemo2 went exactly to plan."

WATCH: The launch of Virgin Orbit's first satellites into space

“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!" Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers."

The rocket's upper stage coasted for a period, reignited to circularize the orbit and then deployed the nine CubeSats.

The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly livestreamed.

Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.

The successful launch will come as a boost for the company and for Branson, who has seen the Covid-19 pandemic deal a brutal blow to his leisure and travel assets. The company ultimately plans to use the rockets to put small satellites into space and compete with ground-based launches such as those from Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

A first demonstration of LauncherOne in May saw the rocket lose ignition shortly into flight due to a breach in a high-pressure line carrying liquid oxygen to the engine. This time, the company said the engine ignition was “perfectly executed."

Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its rockets was nearing launch Sunday.

Virgin Orbit touts the flexibility of its capability to begin its missions by using airports around the globe.

Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020.

The rocket was released and ignited but only briefly flew under power before it stopped thrusting. The lost payload was only a test satellite.

The company later said an investigation determined there was a breach in a high-pressure line carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first-stage combustion chamber.

Virgin Orbit is separate from Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Branson to carry passengers on suborbital hops in which they will experience the sensations and sights of spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial operations this year in southern New Mexico.

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