Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, like the one shown here in the 2019 test over the Pacific Ocean, is set to launch again Thursday. Photo courtesy of Greg Robinson/Virgin Orbit
January. 13 (UPI) – Virgin Orbit plans to kick off an ambitious launch schedule for 2022 Thursday by sending seven small satellites into space aboard a rocket launched from a jet-set high above the Pacific Ocean.
The LauncherOne rocket will launch just after 2 p.m. PST from under the wing of the company’s Cosmic Girl, a modified 747, about an hour after take-off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California.
Virgin Orbit successfully completed launches using the same method twice in 2021.
Company officials said at a press conference Tuesday that they hope to launch six missions in 2022, which would put the company among the most active space launch companies currently.
“This year we are targeting six launches and essentially doubling our tempo,” CEO Dan Hart said.
Other plans discussed on Tuesday included launch targets from Spaceport Cornwall in western England in 2022 and from Guam and Brazil in subsequent years.
Thursday’s launch is set to carry four US Department of Defense satellites that will test new, unreported technologies for space communications and navigation.
The mission also carries two small satellites of Poland’s SatRevolution, which was a Virgin Orbit customer at its last launch in June.
The SatRevolution spacecraft for Thursday’s launch is known as STORK-3, which will collect images and data from farmland, and SteamSat-2, which will test hydro-fueled thrusters.
Finally, Virginia-based satellite imaging company Spire Global will launch the Adler-1, which was developed in partnership with German and Austrian partners to study space debris in low Earth orbit.
The rocket will carry the satellites into a unique orbit, blasting off at a 45-degree inclination of the equator, said Tony Gingis, Virgin Orbit’s chief operating officer, which has not been tested before from the West Coast.
Achieving such an orbit “really shows the resilience and capability of our system [enables us] To get to a place where we can reach this orbit.”
Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl can take off from any major airport runway carrying the rocket under its wing, while most rockets can only be launched from vertical space launch pads.
Gingiss said the company is currently seeking a license to launch from Guam and final approvals for launch from Spaceport Cornwall.
If the company’s plan to launch from Cornwall succeeds, Hart said, it would be the first-ever orbital space launch from England or Europe.
The European Space Agency has a successful space program that uses the rockets of the French company Arianespace, but those are launched from the agency’s spaceport in French Guiana, South America.
The new Virgin Orbit mission is named Above the Clouds, which refers to Virgin Orbit’s former parent company Virgin Group, which still owns a majority stake in the launch platform. Virgin Records released the hip-hop duo Gang Starr’s above the sky album in 1998.
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