Virgin Galactic has successfully ‘launched’ a rocket from a Boeing 747 airplane in mid-flight, marking a huge step towards a new space launch technique.
The test flight took place in the Mojave desert yesterday, and saw Virgin Orbit (a spin-off from the main Virgin Galactic brand) drop its LauncherOne vehicle from the modified airplane Cosmic Girl, while at an altitude of 35,000 feet.
Thankfully, the test flight went without a hitch, and the rocket and aircraft separated cleanly.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, said: “Today’s test was a monumental step forward for us.
“It’s the capstone to a thorough development program not just for a rocket, but for our carrier aircraft, our ground support equipment, and all of our flight procedures.”
The flight was piloted by Kelly Latimer and Todd Ericsson, who also fly for Virgin Galactic.
Mr Latimer said: “The whole flight went incredibly well. The release was extremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely.
“There was a small roll with the aircraft, just as we expected.
“Everything matched what we’d seen in the simulators well — in fact, the release dynamics and the aircraft handling qualities were both better than we expected.
“This was the best kind of test flight sortie from a test pilot’s perspective — an uneventful one.”
While the LauncherOne rocket was simply ‘dropped’ during this test, in the future, Virgin Orbit hopes to launch similar rockets into space from Cosmic Girl.
Richard Branson , founder of Virgin Orbit, tweeted: “What a moment: Virgin Orbit have released our fully built, fully loaded (massive!) LauncherOne rocket from Cosmic Girl for the first time.”
It remains unclear when Virgin Orbit plans to test launching a rocket from Cosmic Girl.