Virgin Orbit has revealed its first space rocket, LauncherOne

Virgin Orbit has revealed the first full images of its rocket ‘LauncherOne’.

The rocket is twice as long as a London bus but will travel at more than 20 times the speed of sound.

It will be strapped to the bottom of a modified Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 to be flown up to 30,000ft before its own rocket takes it into space.

Pictures released by Virgin on Friday showed LauncherOne ‘mated’ with the plane, dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’ for the first time at the Virgin Orbit base in Long Beach, California.

<em>Virgin Orbit has released pictures of its LauncherOne rocket in Long Beach, California (Picture: Virgin Orbit)</em>
Virgin Orbit has released pictures of its LauncherOne rocket in Long Beach, California (Picture: Virgin Orbit)

Writing on the Virgin blog, Sir Richard Branson said: “LauncherOne? Meet Cosmic Girl. The brilliant Virgin Orbit team have integrated our LauncherOne rocket with Cosmic Girl, our modified 747, for the very first time.

“These photos show the size of the rocket we will attach to our 747. It will carry LauncherOne to more than 30,000 feet before the rocket engages its thrusters and flies into orbit early next year – travelling at 17,500mph, dropping off satellites and connecting the world.”

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He said the rocket and plane wouldn’t usually be ‘mated’ at Long Beach airport, but it made sense as the Virgin Orbit team was carrying out integration checks to make sure mechanical, electrical, software and dynamics all work together.

Sir Richard said he hoped it was a treat for the airport’s neighbours, adding: “It’s an incredibly exciting moment for us, as Virgin Orbit’s first test flights move ever closer.”

<em>LauncherOne is twice the length of a London bus and will travel at more than 20 times the speed of sound (Picture: Virgin Orbit)</em>
LauncherOne is twice the length of a London bus and will travel at more than 20 times the speed of sound (Picture: Virgin Orbit)

At 70ft, LauncherOne is twice the length of a London bus and will travel at more than 20 times the speed of sound, he said.

“The rocket weighs 57,000 pounds, which is the equivalent to 25 small family cars,” he added.

“Launcher One’s payload will carry satellites that could be as small as a loaf of bread and as large as a household fridge.”

Cosmic Girl – the first 747 in history to be converted to launch rockets – it the “ultimate upcycling”, he added, saying it can fly thousands of miles in any direction at just 24 hours’ notice to deliver a rocket to the right orbit, whereas currently people have to wait 18-24 months for manufacturing and a ground launch.

<em>The images show LauncherOne ‘mated’ with the converted Boeing 747 plane Cosmic Girl for the first time (Picture: Virgin Orbit)</em>
The images show LauncherOne ‘mated’ with the converted Boeing 747 plane Cosmic Girl for the first time (Picture: Virgin Orbit)

The Virgin founder added: “The mission of Virgin Orbit, making small satellites more frequent, sustainable, efficient and affordable, is so exciting.

“Satellites are already connecting us to our fellow humans, helping us understand our home planet, keeping us safe and expand the limits of human knowledge.

‘The innovations this team are working towards will bring people even closer together and help communities to thrive all around the world.”

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