Virgin Orbit launching rockets from an airplane.

Virgin Orbit launching rockets from an airplane

Virgin Orbit launching rockets from a Boeing 747 airplane. Virgin Orbit is a private company, formed in 2017, to provide launch services for small satellites (LEO’s). The company is a spin-off from spaceflight company Virgin Galactic and is operating separately within the Virgin Group. Virgin Orbit will use the company’s reusable LauncherOne system to air launch satellites from a high altitude.

Based in Long Beach, California USA, Virgin Orbit has more than 300 employees led by president Dan Hart, a former VP of government satellite systems at Boeing Space & Defense.

Virgin Orbit tries a different approach than its competitors. Rather than launching rockets from the ground, it will carry rockets (LauncherOne) to a high altitude attached to an airplane, a customized 747-400 aircraft, called Cosmic Girl, which acts as a “flying launch pad.”

On June 30th, 2021 Virgin Orbit successfully conducted the first commercial flight with a LauncherOne mission. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl took off from a flight runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and dropped the rocket when it had reached about 45,000 feet in altitude. LauncherOne orbited three CubeSat satellites for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), satellite manufacturer SatRevolution from Poland and the Royal Netherlands Air Force, were successfully deployed to 500 km Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).

Virgin Orbit named the mission’s name, “Tubular Bells, Part One,” as an homage to Virgin Records‘ history, and the name of the first track on the first album ever released by Virgin Records.

Virgin Orbit’s ‘Start-Me-Up’ mission of January 9th, 2023 failed due to an anomaly of the LauncherOne launch vehicle. The mission contained government and defense satellites (MoD, NRO) as well as CubeSats for commercial companies as SpaceForge from the UK and SatRevolution from Poland and the first EO satellite for the Kingdom of Oman.

On April 4th, 2023 the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after it laid off the majority of its workers in March. The reduction in workforce followed after pausing operations mid-March after the company was unable to secure new funding.

In May 2023 the company sold the majority of its assets to Rocket Lab USA, Launcher Inc. and Stratolaunch Systems. Rocket Lab was the successful bidder for Virgin Orbit’s factory in Long Beach, California, including the machinery, equipment and lease. Launcher purchased the facility in Mojave, California, including the lease, machinery, equipment and inventory in a 2.7 million USD transaction. Stratolaunch, which designs hypersonic vehicles, acquired the modified Boeing 747 ‘Cosmic Girl’, for 17 million USD.