back to article Virgin Orbit finally lives up to its name after second attempt with LauncherOne rocket

After an initial failure in 2020, the Virgin Galactic spinout reached orbit on its second try, with the LauncherOne rocket deploying its payloads to a 500km orbit. Virgin Orbit employs an air-launch system via the Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft, an adapted Boeing 747, which drops LauncherOne at the required altitude. The first …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    While not the first, still a good advancement.

    This is a way to launch smaller payloads more economically.

    Note as cool as using a fighter jet, but allows for a larger payload to be lifted.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: While not the first, still a good advancement.

      >This is a way to launch smaller payloads more economically.

      TBD - Pegasus never made it economic, although that was under a NASA/military model.

      One problem with Cornwall (other than the obvious) is that the whole point of this system is that you can fly to where the weather is nice for a launch - the North Atlantic isn't the most obvious choice.

      The other problem is that you can't launch anything American

      1. aje21

        Re: While not the first, still a good advancement.

        Isn't part of the idea to launch where appropriate (e.g. source of the payload) and what suits the orbit needed? Agreed that weather is a key part, but if you can fly above the storms...

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: While not the first, still a good advancement.

          Indeed, they can get the 747 aloft in weather that would scrub a surface launch and conditions above 10,000m are fairly stable.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: While not the first, still a good advancement.

            The idea is to be able to launch from any latitude in any direction.

            For this payload that is probably further north than an equatorial GSO orbit (nobody is putting 20ton communication satellites on this thing).

            You want good weather both at the take-off and launch altitude, with a $MM rocket hanging under the wing you don't want to fly through a storm at climb out, even if it is nice at FL300

            Mostly it depends on how much swing Boeing/Lockheed still have in Washington, if they can get every US launch on this thing blocked by ITAR.

        2. CuChulainn Silver badge

          Re: While not the first, still a good advancement.

          That's true, but dragging a delicate rocket with delicate payload THROUGH the storm might cause unforeseen problems.

          I do think we're being a little optimistic about Cornwall except in the summer, but when it finally happens it'll be pretty cool.

          It was good to see this trial succeed though.

  2. John Robson Silver badge

    Finally - is a bit harsh

    They've hit orbit on their second effort...

    That's not "finally", it's a damned good effort.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Finally - is a bit harsh

      Any new system will have issues during development and initial deployment. Virgin persevered through the problems like others have. Good Job.

      As commercial companies get more experience with space operations there will be an expansion of the industry.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Pint

    Obviously inspired by LOHAN

    Right?

    One of these all round -->

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Obviously inspired by LOHAN

      Maybe it is time that LOHAN was dusted off, as a relatively early private space venture the project was a ground breaker.

      Such a shame that Lester never saw the completion of the project.

  4. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

    Hmm

    This always surprises me. They get a major oopsie, crap software, escape system explodes, whatever. Then they only have to do one successful test before they put the monkeys in the tin. I'd have every failure require two successful tests at least.

    Boeing should be sitting down to read Richard Feynman's and Charles Fishman's write-ups of the Shuttle software team.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      Remember this has nothing in common, other than a grinning beardy, with Virgin Galactic.

      This is technology that was working great 30 years ago with launching Pegasus from an old DC10

      1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        I didn't make it clear did I? I meant the second section, about the Boeing Calamity Capsule. Hence the remark about how soon they crew the thing after a raised gonads event.

        As others observed, Virgin have done well.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Hmm

          Sorry thought you meant virgin galactic's unscheduled, but unfortunately manned, disassembly

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      You've not worked in Agile, have you? :-)

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        A rocket made with Agile is never going to get off the ground.

        Break often = exploded rocket.

        Kinda difficult to debug when its in pieces.

        1. jake Silver badge

          "A rocket made with Agile is never going to get off the ground."

          Oh, I dunno ... generations of kids (with a little help from Estes) might argue the point.

          "Kinda difficult to debug when its in pieces."

          Difficult, but not impossible. But getting it off the neighbors roof ...

        2. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Not if your telemetry is OK. Imagine a video on the shuttle looking down - might still be flying the buggers.

          1. jake Silver badge

            No number of cameras (or other telemetry) could stop the politically expedient retirement of the Shuttle. Besides, if you put a camera (redundantly, of course!) on each and every potential failure point, the thing would never have got off the ground.

      2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        Yes I have and do, but it's not appropriate everywhere.

  5. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    This just makes sense

    I'm old enough to remember that this is how we broke the sound barrier with the Bell X-1 (after stealing design concepts from the British Miles M.52).

    Getting out of a portion of the gravity well before launching a space vehicle is a viable option and I applaud Virgin Orbit for their success.

    Pints (or Virgin Marys?) all round.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: This just makes sense

      Being invited in to take a look is hardly "stealing".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This just makes sense

        FWIW, there is a short section ("Prototypes") on the wikipedia page for the M52 which addresses this issue.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: This just makes sense

      >Getting out of a portion of the gravity well before launching a space vehicle is a viable option

      It's no real change in gravity (Earth's surface is 6400km from the center, 30,000ft is only 9km further!)

      The alleged advantage is that you can fly out to sea and launch in any direction - it's hard to find a land based launch site that has empty ocean in all directions ! You can also fly to where the weather is nicer, assuming it is good enough to let you get off the ground.

      Drawbacks are that you are limited to a small, single payload.

      It has to be engineered to support itself sideways while slung underneath an aeroplane and then 'downwards' when the rocket kicks off.

      The launch altitude isn't high enough for the rocket to be vacuum optimised, so you still need 2 stages.

      And because it has a manned carrier aeroplane you have all the safety costs and restrictions of a manned launch.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: This just makes sense

        Yes, the rocket and payload have different launch parameters to endure. The extra engineering for this is offset* by the lack of needing to pay for a bigger rocket and the first 30,000ft worth of rocket fuel.

        It's a business there'll either be paying customers or not!

        * to whatever level of +/-%

      2. Spherical Cow

        Re: This just makes sense

        "30,000ft is only 9km further!"

        It doesn't sound much, but you need a lot of fuel and a big rocket to lift the payload + plus the fuel needed from 9km upwards + small rocket.

        The plane takes the place of the big rocket and its fuel.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Jan 0

      Re: This just makes sense

      Blimey HildyJ, as someone whose only knowledge of Miles was the Magister, I'm quite blown away by the aspirations of 1940s British boffins! Thanks for that note. I was a big fan of Chuck Yeager, the X1a and Billy Batson (no relation) in the 1950s:)

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