While manufacturing ventilators, and with 90% of their workforce at home, Virgin Orbit performs a final development test.
Virgin Orbit, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, will soon launch its first demonstration mission to orbit. This will be done by firing off the company's LauncherOne rocket, after dropping it from beneath the wing of Cosmic Girl, the company's modified Boeing 747. But as they quickly approach their critical debut mission, Virgin Orbit first needed to perform what they call an "end-to-end rehearsal."
On Sunday, April 12th, the company performed their final demonstration test while many of its resources were in use manufacturing ventilators in the fight against COVID-19. Supercluster's California-based photographer Pauline Acalin was in the desert to capture the flight.
Cosmic Girl took off from Virgin Orbit's Mojave facility and performed everything but the actual launch. Referred to as a cryogenic captive carry test, LauncherOne was loaded with liquid nitrogen that is a similar temperature to the propellent it will actually use to launch––liquid oxygen. This "would pose less of a risk in case anything were to go wrong despite all of our planning — in our LOX tanks for both stages," according to a blog post from Virgin Orbit.
The mission saw Cosmic Girl perform flight maneuvers identical to the path it will eventually use before dropping LauncherOne at an altitude of 35,000 ft.
"Once that’s done, we’ll be nearly ready for the big kahuna, our Launch Demo," said a statement from Virgin Orbit before last Sunday's flight. "Of course, we’ll first pore over the data from this captive carry flight; and we’ll run through a few last rehearsals, giving the team a few additional chances to practice their jobs with our new COVID-19 procedures in place. But the Launch Demo will be squarely in our sights."