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Virgin Orbit video shows how it can compete with SpaceX


Virgin Orbit has released a new video highlighting the key moments from its latest mission while also demonstrating the versatility of its satellite deployment system.

To send satellites into space, Virgin Orbit loads them onto its LauncherOne rocket before firing it from a modified Boeing 747 jet flying at an altitude of at least 30,000 feet.

The footage (below) was captured during its third successful satellite deployment mission, which started and ended at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on January 13.

“Virgin Orbit accomplished something most launch systems would never attempt,” the company said in a message posted with the video. “By releasing LauncherOne above a thick layer of clouds, we demonstrated for the first time a key element of our air-launch system: inclement weather is no longer a barrier for getting payloads to orbit on time and exactly where they need to be.”

That marks it out from competitors such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab, which use conventional rocket systems that launch directly from the ground. Poor weather conditions, as SpaceX experienced with its most recent mission, can delay ground launches by several days, pushing up costs and causing problems for schedulers.

Virgin Orbit is keen to point out that its own system can launch in a wider range of climatic conditions as the actual release of the rocket takes place above weather systems. As long as it’s safe for the aircraft to take off and land, the mission can go ahead.

However, Virgin Orbit’s launch method limits it to handling mainly small satellites, while SpaceX’s hardware allows for much larger payloads, as well as crewed missions.

The video comes just a few days after NASA announced it had selected Virgin Orbit and 11 other companies — Rocket Lab, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance among them — for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) missions, a program aimed at offering new opportunities for science and technology payloads while at the same time helping to grow the U.S. commercial launch market.

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