Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit business has been spotted making test flights with its ‘Cosmic Girl’ modified Boeing 747 aircraft.
The plane is fitted with a dispenser pylon fitted under its port wing in order to test the aerodynamics. The dispenser will eventually carry Virgin’s ‘LauncherOne’ two-stage rocket which will have a satellite in its nose cone.
The trial flights will lead to a full test when a rocket will be dropped and remotely ignited. LauncherOne is designed to air-launch small satellites up to about 300 kgs. Virgin Orbit has a 150,000 sq ft facility at Long Beach, California.
Aircraft spotters have noticed on the Flightradar24 web-site that Virgin Orbit made at least 3 test flights recently from a business airport in Victorville, some 20 miles North of San Bernadino, California.
The test flights were mostly made over California’s Mojave Desert.
Virgin Orbit has various contracts in place to launch 39 small satellites for OneWeb, and a number of other contracts for NASA , the US Air Force, GomSpace and Cloud Constellatuion.