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In pictures: Virgin air-launched rocket carries 10 ‘CubeSat’ satellites into orbit © Virgin Orbit

In pictures: Virgin air-launched rocket carries 10 ‘CubeSat’ satellites into orbit

Published: 04th March, 2021 at 00:00
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It is the first orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fuelled rocket to reach space.

On the morning of 17 January, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket made its first successful voyage into orbit.

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The rocket was launched from under the wing of a jet aircraft, rather than a traditional launch pad on the ground, from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It is the first orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fuelled rocket to reach space.

Technician working on a Cubesat © Virgin Orbit
© Virgin Orbit

The satellites were selected by NASA’s Launch Services Program as part of the CubeSat Launch Initiative. Nine out of 10 of the CubeSats were designed, built and tested by universities across the US.

The CubeSats will carry out studies such as weather readings, debris analysis and effects of radiation.

Cosmic Girl plane taking off © Virgin Orbit
© Virgin Orbit

LauncherOne was taken into the air by Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft, a customised Boeing 747-400 dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’.

Cosmic girl plane and the rocket after separation © Virgin Orbit
© Virgin Orbit

After a smooth release from the aircraft at a height of about 10,000m, the rocket ignited and powered itself into orbit.

Image taken by a CubeSat © Virgin Orbit
© Virgin Orbit

Once in its target orbit, the rocket deployed the CubeSats. The satellites are fitted with cameras, allowing them to beam back pictures as they travel around the Earth.

Read more about CubeSats:

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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Science Focus Podcast.

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