Vir­gin test at Ed­wards a suc­cess

Antelope Valley Press - - Front Page - By AL­LI­SON GATLIN Val­ley Press Staff Writer

MO­JAVE — Vir­gin Or­bit suc­cess­fully com­pleted a drop test of its LauncherOn­e rocket Wed­nes­day morn­ing, re­leas­ing a dummy ver­sion of the rocket launcher from the 747 car­rier air­craft over Ed­wards Air Force Base in one of the fi­nal tests be­fore mak­ing its first launch.

Com­pany of­fi­cials called the test “in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful.”

“To­day’s test was a mon­u­men­tal step for­ward for us. It’s the cap­stone to a thor­ough devel­op­ment pro­gram, not just for a rocket but for our car­rier air­craft, our ground sup­port equip­ment and all of our flight pro­ce­dures,” Vir­gin Or­bit CEO Dan Hart said in a re­lease about the test flight. “I’m ex­tremely proud of the team for get­ting us to this point, and for their spec­tac­u­lar per­for

mance to­day. I’ve told them to take a few hours now to cel­e­brate — our first launch cam­paign be­gins in the morn­ing.”

Vir­gin Or­bit is head­quar­tered in Long Beach, where the com­pany is de­vel­op­ing its two-stage LauncherOn­e launch ve­hi­cle, but the firm’s rocket mo­tor test­ing uses test fa­cil­i­ties at the Mo­jave Air and Space Port.

The “fly­ing launch pad” that is the mod­i­fied 747 air­liner known as “Cos­mic Girl” has also been com­plet­ing test flights at the Mo­jave site pro­gress­ing to­ward the first launch test. The air­craft took off from the Mo­jave Air and Space Port run­way for Wed­nes­day’s test at 8:43 a.m.

The air­plane car­ries the LauncherOn­e rocket be­neath a wing to launch al­ti­tude at 35,000 feet, at which point it is re­leased, the rocket mo­tor is lit and it car­ries a pay­load of up to 500 kilo­grams, or about 1,100 pounds, into or­bit.

In Wed­nes­day’s test, the dummy LauncherOn­e, with­out a rocket mo­tor, was re­leased over the test­ing range at Ed­wards AFB from 35,000 feet al­ti­tude to test the char­ac­ter­is­tics for the re­lease and to mon­i­tor the few crit­i­cal sec­onds after the rocket is free, to en­sure a clean sep­a­ra­tion from the air­craft.

The test also ob­served how the rocket freefalls through the air.

“The whole flight went in­cred­i­bly well. The re­lease was ex­tremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely,” Chief Test Pi­lot Kelly La­timer said. “There was a small roll with the air­craft, just as we ex­pected. Ev­ery­thing matched what we’d seen in the sim­u­la­tors well — in fact, the re­lease dy­nam­ics and the air­craft han­dling qual­i­ties were both bet­ter than we ex­pected. This was the best kind of test flight sor­tie from a test pi­lot’s per­spec­tive — an un­event­ful one.”

Last fall, “cap­tive carry” test flights be­gan, with an empty rocket mounted be­neath the wing to test how the air­plane per­formed in flight with the ad­di­tion. Th­ese flight tests then pro­gressed to us­ing a rocket loaded with the full weight of an ac­tual mis­sion.

With the drop test com­pleted, fi­nal­iz­ing the rocket assem­bly will take place later this month, and then it will be sub­jected to a se­ries of checks and re­hearsals prior to the first launch to or­bit later this year, of­fi­cials said.

The ini­tial test launch will take place from the Mo­jave Air and Space Port, which will also be one of sev­eral launch sites for Vir­gin Or­bit go­ing for­ward. The mo­bil­ity of the launch sys­tem, al­low­ing for launches from sites with lit­tle ground in­fra­struc­ture, is touted as a key ben­e­fit to the air launch sys­tem.

Vir­gin Or­bit also re­cently an­nounced agree­ments to launch from Guam, the United King­dom and Ja­pan.

Photo cour­tesy of Vir­gin Or­bit

Vir­gin Or­bit suc­cess­fully re­leased a dummy rocket from “Cos­mic Girl,” the mod­i­fied 747 air­liner that serves as a launch plat­form, dur­ing a test Wed­nes­day over Ed­wards Air Force Base. The test was one of the fi­nal hur­dles be­fore the rocket launcher’s first flight to or­bit.

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