A Virgin Orbit jet during a test of its high-altitude launch system for satellites, in Mojave, California, the US, January 17 2021. Picture: REUTERS/GENE BLEVINS
A Virgin Orbit jet during a test of its high-altitude launch system for satellites, in Mojave, California, the US, January 17 2021. Picture: REUTERS/GENE BLEVINS

Billionaire Richard Branson’s orbital-rocket system put its first satellites into space, after a previous attempt failed in May.

Virgin Orbit said a Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl, took off from California on Sunday carrying the company’s LauncherOne rocket, which was then released and ignited before successfully reaching orbit. It then deployed its payload: nine miniature satellites known as CubeSats developed by Nasa.

“LauncherOne has now completed its first mission to space,” the company said on Instagram. “Today’s sequence of events for #LaunchDemo2 went exactly to plan.”

The successful launch will come as a boost for the company and for Branson, who has seen the Covid-19 pandemic deal a brutal blow to his leisure and travel assets.

The company ultimately plans to use the rockets to put small satellites into space and compete with ground-based launches such as those from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

A first demonstration of LauncherOne in May saw the rocket lose ignition shortly into flight due to a breach in a high-pressure line carrying liquid oxygen to the engine. This time, the company said the engine ignition was “perfectly executed”.

Bloomberg

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