express– The space-faring firm, started up by British billionaire and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, met with failure the last time it tried to demonstrate the rocket eight months ago. This time, however, the mission was pulled off successfully and even carried out a task for Nasa.
Virgin Orbit’s rocket, called LauncherOne, blasted off on Sunday and reached orbit before releasing a cluster of small satellites known as CubeSats.
The CubeSats belonged to Nasa – built as part of an educational programme for US universities.
The BBC’s science correspondent Jonathan Amos said the successful mission yesterday will have been “a big fillip for Sir Richard’s team”.
The last mission attempt in 2020 failed after a fault emerged in a propellant feed line only seconds after ignition.
Virgin Orbit said it was “so, so proud” to confirm that this mission had been a success and tweeted its team was going “bonkers”.
Mr Branson said in a statement: “Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible.
“It was so inspiring to see our specially-adapted Virgin Atlantic 747, Cosmic Girl, send the Virgin LauncherOne rocket soaring into orbit.
“This magnificent flight is the culmination of many years of hard work and will also unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit.
“I can’t wait to see the incredible missions Dan and the team will launch to change the world for good.”
With missions such as this, Virgin Orbit aims to tap into the small satellite launch market alongside other private companies such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab.
Virgin Orbit differs from these two competitors in that its LauncherOne rocket is not launched from the ground.
Rather, it has to be taken into the air first aboard a modified Boeing 747 jet before being released horizontally and boosting the rest of the way to space.
Virgin Orbit hopes this will allow it greater mission flexibility, since launches could theoretically be conducted from airports around the globe rather than vertical rocket spaceports, which are few and far between.
Virgin Orbit differs from Sir Richard’s other space company Virgin Galactic. The latter aims to make money from tourism rather than business-to-business commercial operations.