Jan 18, 2021 - Science

Virgin Orbit launches satellites into space

The Virgin Orbit "Cosmic Girl" takes off for the Launch Demo 2 mission from Mojave Air and Space Port on January 17, 2021 in Mojave, California.

The Virgin Orbit "Cosmic Girl," carrying a LauncherOne rocket under it's wing, takes off for the Launch Demo 2 mission from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, on Sunday/ Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket reached space and successfully deployed 10 payloads for NASA's Launch Services Program on Sunday, Richard Branson's company announced.

Why it matters: Per Axios' Miriam Kramer, Virgin Orbit is one of several private spaceflight companies aiming to capitalize on what they believe is a boom in demand for small spacecraft launches.

  • "This flight also marks a historical first: no other orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket had successfully reached space before today," Virgin Orbit said in a statement.

The big picture: The Virgin Orbit "Cosmic Girl," a modified, 70-foot-long Boeing 747-400 carrying the rocket under it's wing, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California.

  • The rocket dropped from the wing and ignited its engine during the launch.
  • Virgin Orbit's first attempted demonstration launch was last May, when it was carrying a test satellite. It "briefly flew under power before it stopped thrusting," AP notes.

Worth noting: Rocket Lab, another company launching small satellites to orbit, has "deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand," per AP.

Go deeper