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A Virgin Orbit flight test in May 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson

Virgin Orbit launched seven satellites from three different customers to space on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Virgin Orbit is entering an increasingly crowded market of launchers hoping to take advantage of the growing demand by nations and other companies to launch small satellites to orbit in the coming years.

How it works: The company's Cosmic Girl 747 carrier plane took off from California's Mojave Air and Spaceport, carrying the LauncherOne rocket loaded down with satellites under its wing.

  • After arriving at the correct area above the Pacific coast, LauncherOne dropped from the plane and its rocket motor ignited, bringing the rocket and its payload up to orbit.
  • "It's a pinch-yourself moment," Richard Branson said of the launch on a Virgin Orbit webcast. The event comes after a successful test in January.
  • The seven satellites launched Wednesday were for the company's customers: the U.S. Department of Defense, Royal Netherlands Air Force and SatRevolution.

The big picture: Historically, small satellites have been forced to hitch rides to space as secondary payloads aboard rockets launching larger satellites, leaving those customers vulnerable to the whims and schedules of the primary on the mission.

  • Small launchers like Virgin Orbit see their value as providing a dedicated ride to these small satellites, allowing them to get to space on their own schedule.

Go deeper

Oct 5, 2021 - Podcasts
How It Happened

The Next Astronauts Part V: The Launch

In part five of How it Happened: The Next Astronauts, Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer follows the Inspiration4 crew to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to cover their launch and catches up with each of them after their return.

  • Kramer takes listeners to the press center at the Kennedy Space Center and inside of a pre-launch press conference with the four civilian astronauts the day before launch.
  • Kramer reports on the launch from on the ground and analyzes the livestream hosted by SpaceX, including the abrupt termination of real-time access to the crew once they reached orbit.
  • She tracks the crew during their three days in orbit, their high-risk descent back through the Earth's atmosphere, and what the safety and success of the mission means for the entire industry going forward.

Subscribe to How It Happened wherever you listen to podcasts.

  • For more of Miriam Kramer's space reporting, subscribe to Axios Space.

Credits: The Next Astronauts is reported and produced by Miriam Kramer, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alice Wilder. Dan Bobkoff is Executive Producer. Mixing, sound design, and music supervision by Alex Sugiura. Theme music and original score by Michael Hanf. Fact-checking and research by Jacob Knutson. Alison Snyder is a managing editor at Axios and Sara Kehaulani Goo is executive editor. Special thanks to Axios co-founders Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.