Virgin Galactic announced that it will enter the small satellite launcher market with the debut of “Cosmic Girl,” a retrofitted Boeing 747-400 commercial jet aircraft. The re-engineered 747-400 jet will support Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne small satellite launch service.
"The Boeing 747 has a very special place in my heart," said Virgin founder and CEO Richard Branson. "I never imagined that today one of our 747s would get a second chance and help open access to space. I'm absolutely thrilled that Cosmic Girl can stay in the Virgin family - and truly live up to her name."
Due to growing customer demand, Virgin Galactic doubled LauncherOne’s payload capacity from 100 kilograms to 200 kilograms in September of this year. For $10 million USD, Virgin Galactic will launch a 200-kilogram payload into Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO). LauncherOne is capable of delivering 400-kilogram payloads into other orbits.
“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO. “Selecting the 747 airframe provides a dedicated platform that gives us the capacity to substantially increase our payload to orbit without increasing our prices.”
Originally a member of the Virgin Atlantic commercial jetliner fleet, the Boeing 747-400 dubbed “Cosmic Girl” was picked for the LauncherOne program due to its spotless operational history and first-rate maintenance record. The LauncherOne launch vehicle will be ferried under the left wing of the jetliner. Cosmic Girl completed its maiden flight in September 2001 and was delivered to Virgin Atlantic Airways by Boeing that following October.
Unlike conventional rocket launches which are subject to weather and range constraints, the “Cosmic Girl” 747-400 would be able to operate in nearly any weather conditions with minimal preparation. This flexibility in launch schedule should lure future customers for the platform.
“Imagine,” Branson said. “We could literally, on 24 hours’ notice, be taking off and putting a satellite into whatever orbit you want.”
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