Commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic, will be using a 747-400 commercial jet aircraft (previously called “Cosmic Girl”) to serve as the platform for its LauncherOne orbital vehicle.
“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO. “Selecting the 747 air frame provides a dedicated platform that gives us the capacity to substantially increase our payload to orbit without increasing our prices.”
Since the company deems the 747 one of the most accomplished and reliable aircraft ever built and notes its established track record of supporting a variety of special missions, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise test flight program, NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft program, it’s no wonder it found it to be the most ideal orbital launch platform.
The 747 has a large and robust rocket carrying capacity, operational flexibility, long range, ability to operate in many kinds of weather, as well as years of existing 747-400 experience, maintenance, and spare parts supply chains. The carrier aircraft can also be deployed from any runway capable of 747 operations.
“The Boeing 747 has a very special place in my heart: we began service on my first airline, Virgin Atlantic, with just one leased 747. I never imagined that today one of our 747s would get a second chance and help open access to space. I’m absolutely thrilled that Cosmic Girl can stay in the Virgin family — and truly live up to her name,” said Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic Founder.
The LauncherOne rocket will be mounted to the carrier aircraft under the left wing, adjacent to the position that has been used by other 747s to ferry a fifth engine.
The LauncherOne air-launched rocket is designed to provide commercial and government-built satellites a flexible launch service. To date, 700 men and women from over 50 countries—greater than the total number of humans who have ever been to space—have reserved places to fly on Virgin Galactic’s reusable space launch system, consisting of carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.
Learn more at Virgin Galactic.