Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit says it will be the ‘Uber for satellites’, as it prepares for the first rocket launch from UK soil, slung underneath the wing of a specially converted Jumbo jet, called Cosmic Girl.
Virgin Orbit say air launching lighter payloads has a major advantage over earth-based vertical rocket launches because the launch site can be varied depending on the satellite’s eventual orbit.
“We’re your Uber. We’ll get you to exactly where you want to go. You’re dedicated there a few satellites that are in there compared to ride sharing with 100 guys, the chance of all 100 of those satellites wanting the same orbit, at the same altitude, on the same conditions?” Virgin Orbit’s Chief Pilot, Squadron Leader Mathew Stannard, a serving Royal Air Force fast jet pilot on secondment to the company, told Reuters.
“It’s unlikely, but people will take that potentially because it might be a cheaper option,” Stannard said.
The rocket, called LauncherOne, is more than 70 feet (21m) long and can carry more than 25,000 kg of payload into space.
In the next few days it will be loaded with 8 small satellites, including six from the UK and two from Poland and Oman.
“We take it out to the drop site and then we do, for an aeroplane, a quite a dynamic manoeuvre where we pitch it up to a steep attitude to give the rocket less work when it comes off. The rocket drops off the aeroplane, we bank away, and off the rocket goes to space,” Stannard said.
The pilot says the converted 747, one of Virgin Atlantic’s fleet, was called Cosmic Girl long before it’s new role.
“People don’t believe me when I say it, but she was called Cosmic Girl before Virgin Orbit even got her. So it was almost written in the stars that this was going to be our aeroplane,” he said.
“Yeah, she’s a famous jet now that’s for sure. People just come to see her. Sometimes I feel like it detracts from the real star which is the rocket under the wing.”
By Reuters. (Production: Stuart McDill)