The 747 - named Cosmic Girl - will fly from multiple locations around the globe, enabling access to orbits that are more hard to reach from fixed launch sites.
The company loaded a rocket onto its Boeing 747 launch aircraft - dubbed Cosmic Girl - and dropped a dummy LauncherOne rocket in flight over the Mojave desert.
Virgin Orbit achieved another major milestone in its test program for LauncherOne when an inert rocket was drop tested over a test range at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The company's modified 747 plane - which has a lower deck completely stripped of passenger seats and overhead compartments but retains airline crew bunks in the cabin and cockpit - can take off from a typical runway with a rocket tucked under its wing.
The test was created to test the dynamics of the release of the rocket, which on an actual mission would be allowed to fall for several seconds before igniting its first-stage engine.
The test went to plan and was deemed successful.
The Long Beach, California-based company founded by Richard Branson will use the system to launch small satellites - weighing from about 660 to 1,100 pounds (300 to 500 kilograms) - into space.
Cosmic Girl was piloted by Virgin Orbit's Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer (Lt. Col. USAF, Ret.) and Todd Ericson (Col. USAF, Ret.), both of whom also fly for Virgin Orbit's sister company, Virgin Galactic. "This was the best kind of test flight sortie from a test pilot's perspective - an uneventful one". The company then performed several captive carry flights, with a LauncherOne attached to that adapter but not released.
Another view of Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket as it separates from its carrier plane during the company's first-ever drop test on July 10, 2019. "It's the capstone to a thorough development program not just for a rocket, but for our carrier aircraft, our ground support equipment, and all of our flight procedures".
And that's exactly how Virgin Orbit drew it up. Following the dramatic first flight of late billionaire Paul Allen's Stratolaunch aircraft on April 19, 2019, the Reuters News agency ran a story on May 31 saying the Stratolaunch flight program would be shut down until a buyer for the ambitious project came forward. That vehicle will be completed later in July, the company said, and then undergo testing before its first launch. "More photos and videos coming soon", Virgin Orbit representatives wrote on Twitter today.
"I've told them to take a few hours now to celebrate - our first launch campaign begins in the morning".