Virgin Orbit on Monday attempted the first full flight of its orbital payload launch system, which includes a modified Boeing 747 called the "Cosmic Girl" that acts as a carrier aircraft for the LauncherOne rocket launched in the air. While Virgin Orbit previously flew Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne for various tests and demonstrations, this was the first end-to-end system test. Unfortunately, this test ended much earlier than planned – shortly after the LauncherOne rocket from Cosmic Girl was released.
We have confirmed clean clearance from the aircraft. However, the mission ended shortly before the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and return to the base.
– Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) May 25, 2020
Cosmic Girl launched shortly before 12 p.m. PT (3 p.m. ET) from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. The aircraft was piloted by chief test pilot Kelly Latimer together with her co-pilot Todd Ericson. The aircraft then flew to its target release point, where LauncherOne performed a "clean release" of the carrier vehicle as scheduled at around 12:50 p.m. PT (3:50 a.m. ET), but Virgin noticed only a few minutes later that the mission was subsequently "ended." ".
While the company confirms the Cosmic Girl crew and all other employees as safe, this is probably a disappointing test. However, Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, and Will Pomerantz, VP, warned that many initial test missions for new launch systems didn't go quite as planned – which is why you're testing.
The company will likely still be able to collect a lot of valuable data from this mission, which should provide information about what went wrong. We will also contact the company for details of what caused the premature end of today's mission. Once the company fixes the issues, it will likely try again. This may not be as far away as you might expect since Virgin has been very active in its launch vehicle pipeline and the backup vehicle is almost ready to fly.