The private space race is heating up with SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Orbit all making huge progress. Virgin Orbit is now looking to build on its January success, which saw it deliver a small payload into space, with an even bigger delivery next month.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne lifted 10 NASA satellites into space in January, but now it is back for more.
This time around, the company will be carrying three CubeSat satellites from the US Department of Defense as well as a CubeSat from the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
Also on board will be a satellite from private company SatRevolution, which provides “real-time satellite imagery thanks to Earth observation satellites”, according to its website.
A specific date has yet to be decided by Sir Richard Branson and co., simply stating that the launch will occur in June.
The mission will launch from the Mojave Desert in California.
Virgin Orbit will see a carrier plane, named Cosmic Girl, with a rocket strapped beneath one wing, lift off from the Californian desert.
When the carrier plane, which is a modified Boeing 747, reaches a certain altitude, it will release the rocket.
The rocket will then continue into space, where it will deposit the satellites in orbit.
Virgin Orbit said: “Since our flawless Launch Demo 2 mission in January, the Virgin Orbit team hasn’t wasted any time in working towards yet another flight with LauncherOne.
“At this very moment, the rocket that will carry our next customers to space is fully assembled, and in the coming days we’ll ship it out to our Mojave test site for prelaunch operations.
“As all this is now familiar work, our team has been able to operate at a whole new level of efficiency and precision.”
The coming mission, which is the first official one with the January launch being considered a “demo”, has been dubbed ‘Tubular Bells, Part One’.
This was the name of the first album recorded for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Music, by Mike Oldfield, which helped to propel the eccentric billionaire into stardom.
Virgin Orbit said: “For this first step in the next chapter of our commercial service, what could be more appropriate than to tip our hat to that creative work and those bold decisions?
“Like Tubular Bells, our customers are doing something a little out of the ordinary for our space industry — and we so love their work that we’ve created a whole new way to launch that is tailored just for them.
“The first track on the first side of the first album from the first band ever signed to Virgin Records. What a way to kick off our commercial service!”