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Virgin Orbit forced to halt prep for next plane-based rocket launch test due to COVID-19

Virgin Orbit is developing a launch system that can deploy small rockets from anywhere on the planet, but the spread of COVID-19 continues to affect the pace of progress.

The launch company planned to complete its second demonstration flight with LauncherOne, the small rocket Virgin Orbit is currently developing to release from the wing of a custom 747 plane named Cosmic Girl, before the end of the month.

As we all know to well in 2020, however, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still far-reaching. Despite making substantial progress toward the Launch Demo 2 mission, Virgin Orbit has been forced to halt readiness preparation before the next test flight.

Here’s the latest status update from Virgin Orbit:

Our vehicles, hardware, and software are all ready to go. With two rehearsals already complete, one final wet dress rehearsal is all that remains for us to do. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is impacting our ability to safely operate, and thus our schedule.

Our team has really proven to be outstanding. In the past week, we’ve completed full mission duration hotfire campaigns on both our upper & main stage engines, qualified our flight software and mission planning for this flight, verified the health of all rocket systems, and more.

Through extensive use of remote work and PPE, the redesign of our launch operations, and well-trained and dedicated staff, we’ve done everything in our power to keep our team safe at work — and thus far, we’ve prevented any cases of teammate-to-teammate transmission.

But even with these strict measures in place, as infection rates skyrocket in our communities, that is becoming a more difficult task.

Our latest round of contact tracing Friday evening led to a new batch of precautionary quarantines.

Consequently, we’ve fallen below the number of staff we feel we require to prudently and safely proceed with pre-launch operations.

Our priority now is ensuring the well-being of our team, and to support the few who have tested positive.

More than anything else, we wish them a speedy recovery.

Upon receiving this information late Friday, we stepped out of a major operation, our final wet dress rehearsal, which we had already begun, and stood down the team so we could make a clear-sighted assessment before moving forward.

Given the timelines associated with accurate Covid-19 testing results, this will impact our launch schedule. We are assessing that impact now. We will be ready to fly soon, but the health of our team and their families remains at the forefront of our decisions.

A final note: if you love space, love Earth and love its people, please take the proper precautions. Social distance and wear your mask. Simple, individual actions can save lives — and can keep our communities, our economies, and even our rocket launches on track.