For Virgin Orbit, its special Boeing 747 jumbo jet is auspiciously called “Cosmic Girl”.
The aircraft once flew around the world for the airline Virgin Atlantic passengers.
The model has since been converted into a flying launch pad.
Now, for the first time, a Boeing jumbo satellite has successfully launched into space.
For this purpose, a rocket attached under the 747 wing was released in the air 160 kilometers off the coast of California.
After igniting the engine, the rocket launched ten small satellites for the US space agency NASA.
All satellites have reached the planned orbit, said Virgin Orbit.
The private US space company Virgin Orbit, which belongs to the Virgin group of the British billionaire Richard Branson, is thus becoming a player in a future market.
Instead of a few large satellites, industry experts expect swarms of hundreds or thousands of small satellites in the future.
In addition, it is not only the military who want to transport smaller satellites into space as cheaply as possible on special orbits.
If that were possible from an airfield, all the better.
Therefore, not only is a market for small satellites emerging, but also a wave of mostly privately financed providers of smaller new launchers around the world.
But most of them are supposed to take off from the earth and not be dropped in the air for takeoff.
In Germany alone, three new rockets (Isar Aerospace, Rocket Factory Augsburg, HyImpulse Technologies) are currently being developed and a launch platform for Europe's industry in the North Sea is being discussed.
The 21-meter-long Launcher One rocket, which has now been launched from the Boeing jumbo, is the US company's second attempt to launch payloads into space.
A first attempt failed in May 2020.
After a break in an oxygen line, the engine had to be switched off after a few seconds of flight.
The project is a good two years behind the original schedule.
The company developed the approximately 29-ton two-stage rocket with liquid propulsion itself.
Because the rocket is released from the Boeing jumbo at a height of a good ten kilometers, a small section is already on the way into space and the first few kilometers through lower dense layers of air.
According to Virgin Orbit, the rocket can propel up to 500 pounds into low orbit.
The idea of launching rockets into space from airplanes has been known for decades.
Above all, the US Pegasus missiles, which were dropped by large US bombers B-52 from 1990 and then by the large-capacity Lockheed L-1011 TriStar models, caused a sensation.
There have been a good 40 starts in 30 years.
Now, for the first time, a Boeing Jumbo has been launched by a new provider.
But the next private air launch platforms are already preparing to get involved.
This includes the US company Stratolaunch's largest aircraft by the span.