Virgin Orbit bounces back from maiden failure as its LauncherOne reaches orbit

by | Jan 18, 2021 | Launches, Satellites, Seradata News

After several technical delays and a maiden launch failure (and at a developmental cost of around US$1 billion), Virgin Orbit finally achieved the first successful flight of its air-launched LauncherOne vehicle. The procedure began with the Boeing 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft lifting off from the Mojave Air and Space Port airstrip at 1838 GMT on 17 January.

The aircraft, carrying the 21-metre-long LauncherOne rocket slung under its left wing, flew out across the Pacific. It then initiated a racetrack flight pattern off the coast of California. As it headed south, after a steep climb, the carrier aircraft released the LauncherOne rocket at an altitude of 35,000 feet. The drop time was 1939 GMT. After a five second fall, the rocket ignited its first-stage Newton Three liquid propellant rocket engine, which this time achieved full thrust and carried on with its firing.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne fires correctly after its release. Courtesy: Virgin Orbit

The previous maiden launch had ended at this point with the rocket falling into the sea after a commanded engine shutdown due to a broken liquid oxygen line. This time the first-stage engine burned well and, following separation of the first stage, the rocket’s second stage fired its Newton Four engine for a six-minute burn to achieve orbit.

After a brief second burn to achieve target orbit, it released its 10 CubeSat payloads (CACTUS 1, CAPE 3, Exocube 2, MiTEE, PICS 1 & 2, PolarCube, Q-pace, RadFXSat, TechEdSat 7) into a 500 km Sun-synchronous low Earth orbit. The payloads carried were for US universities and NASA, all part of the NASA ELaNa sponsored launch programme.

Virgin Orbit hopes to market this launch vehicle for primary launches and constellation replenishment flights for the growing small satellite sector. On a more poignant note, the launch vehicle carried the inscription “For Eve” – a reference to the recent death from Covid-19 of Virgin Orbit Founder Sir Richard Branson’s inspirational mother Eve.

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to

Related Articles

Virgin Orbit signed to provide two launches for British newspace company Arqit Limited

On 12 May Virgin Orbit announced that it had been selected by Arqit Limited to launch its first two satellites. Read more

Virgin Orbit contracted to launch six hyperspectral imaging sats starting in 2023

On 21 April Virgin Orbit was selected to launch a series of six hyperspectral imaging satellites using its LauncherOne vehicle. Read more

Covid-19 Pandemic Endgame: “1943” has been reached but setbacks may still happen

Most of those living today will not have been alive during the World Wars of the Twentieth Century.  And yet, Read more

Virgin Orbit is contracted to launch two CubeSats for Polish company

Virgin Orbit announced on 9 February 2021 that it has been contracted by Polish smallsat manufacturer SatRevolution. The two 3U Read more

Dutch military CubeSat to fly with Virgin Orbit on upcoming mission

The Royal Netherlands Air Force has - through its satellite manufacturer ISISpace - secured a slot on a March 2021 Read more

Virgin Orbit plans to take stake in struggling Sky and Space Global

Announced on 28 October, are the plans of upcoming small launch provider Virgin Orbit to purchase part of Sky and Read more

NASA elects to have ELaNa 20 mission fly on the upcoming second test flight of the LauncherOne

NASA and Virgin Orbit have announced that the ELaNa 20 mission will fly on the upcoming second orbital test flight Read more

Ruptured propellant line doomed maiden flight of LauncherOne

The cause of failure of the maiden flight of Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket has been revealed. The air-launched rocket was Read more

Cookies & Privacy

Click here to read about use of cookies on the website