Virgin Orbit dropping space-bound LauncherOne rocket from 747 wing in first orbital flight test [Update]

Update 5/24/2020 8:37 p.m. EDT: New launch target between 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 25

Update 5/25/2020 3:56 p.m. EDT: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket had a clean release from the wing of the Cosmic Girl 747, but the mission terminated shortly after release. Virgin Orbit says the crew and aircraft are safe.

A rocket typically lifts off from a launchpad to move a payload from the ground to somewhere in space, but Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit sees another path to sending orbital vehicles and satellites to low Earth orbit.

How does dropping a rocket into free fall from an airplane named Cosmic Girl before its engines fire off sound?

Virgin Orbit planned to complete the first orbital flight test of its LauncherOne rocket today to demonstrate just that, but a “minor sensor issue” has caused Virgin Orbit to scrub the test flight for Sunday.

The company believes the sensor problem can be resolved with a quick turnaround, however, suggesting a potential Memorial Day orbital flight test for LauncherOne.

“We completed fueling of our LauncherOne rocket yesterday for our Launch Demo. Everything has been proceeding smoothly: team, aircraft, and rocket are in excellent shape,” Virgin Orbit announced Sunday. “However, we have one sensor that is acting up. Out of an abundance of caution, we are offloading fuel to address. This means we are scrubbed for today.”

“Currently, it appears we’ve got a straightforward path to address this minor sensor issue and recycle quickly. The crew are already hard at work putting that plan into action. We’ll provide an update on the new launch target later today,” the company added.

When the LauncherOne rocket is ready to go in the coming days, Virgin Orbit’s 747 will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to the drop point over the Pacific Ocean. This is the mission overview from Virgin Orbit:

After reaching the drop point — approximately 50 miles south of the Channel Islands — Cosmic Girl will release the two-stage LauncherOne vehicle, which will ignite the NewtonThree engine in free fall for the first time ever. The flight will then continue towards its ultimate target of Low Earth Orbit.

If successful, this flight will mark the first air-launch of a liquid-fueled orbital launch vehicle.

Regardless of what day this week the LauncherOne orbital flight test occurs, this week will be host to a busy and ambitious series of launch activities from the United States.

NASA is targeting Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT for the launch of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission as part of its Commercial Crew program. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first humans to travel to space on SpaceX hardware.

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are already in place at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Teams at NASA and SpaceX completed a dress rehearsal for the historic mission over the weekend. If the launch is forced to be scrubbed for any reason on Wednesday, the next instantaneous launch target is scheduled for Saturday, May 30.

We’ll update our coverage for LauncherOne’s orbital flight test as soon as Virgin Orbit releases a new test date.

Original headline: Virgin Orbit delays LauncherOne orbital flight test over ‘minor sensor issue’, new target on Monday

Update 5/24/2020 8:37 p.m. EDT: New launch target between 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 26:

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