Rocket, man! Virgin Orbit launch a success; reaches space for the first time

Long Beach’s burgeoning aerospace and satellite manufacturing industry achieved a milestone Sunday with the successful launch of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

Just before noon, the company tweeted that telemetry indicated the rocket had reached orbit, followed by a planned 30 minute engine shutdown and coasting period, before the engine would relight and finalize its orbital path.

Rather than blasting off from the ground like a traditional rocket, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket is released and launched from under the wing of an inflight, modified 747, flying the rocket above 75% of Earth’s atmosphere before igniting its engine.

Sunday’s launch occurred high above the Pacific Ocean, southwest of the Channel Islands, from a looping flight path the company refers to as the ‘racetrack.”

The rocket’s payload of nine miniaturized satellites, known as CubeSats, includes one to help predict space weather and another which will allow students to connect and interact with it via a smartphone app.

In an earlier test launch in May 2020, LauncherOne only ignited for about 10 seconds, cutting out early and falling into the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast. An investigation later determined a breach in a high-pressure line was to blame.

Virgin Orbit is based in a 180,000-square-foot manufacturing headquarters in the Douglas Park commercial complex adjacent to Long Beach Airport.

Since the arrival of Virgin Orbit, other orbital launch companies, including Rocket Lab and SpinLaunch, have also set up headquarters in Douglas Park as Long Beach has pushed to become a global hub for satellite manufacturing and the private space industry.

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