LauncherOne: Almost nearly

This project is focused on the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne, a pioneering air-launched rocket system, which has played a significant role in the evolution of space technology, particularly in the realm of small satellite deployment. Despite its initial promise and innovative approach, LauncherOne's journey in the aerospace sector has been marked by both achievements and setbacks, culminating in a notable failed launch attempt from the United Kingdom.

The LauncherOne system, developed by Virgin Orbit, was a revolutionary step in satellite launch methodology. Launched from a modified Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl, it represented a shift from traditional ground-based platforms, offering increased flexibility, reduced costs, and a unique approach to reaching orbit. The system was designed to carry payloads of up to 500 kilograms to low Earth orbit, catering especially to small satellites.

ManufacturerVirgin Orbit
Country of originUnited States
Project costUS$700 million
Cost per launchUS$12 million
HeightApprox. 21.3 m (70 ft)
MassApprox. 30 tons
Payload to 500 km SSO
Mass300 kg (660 lb)
Payload to 230 km LEO
Mass500 kg (1,100 lb)
Associated rockets
FamilyAir launch to orbit
ComparableElectron, Vector-H, Falcon 1, Pegasus
Launch history
Launch sitesMojave Air and Space Port, California
Newquay Airport, United Kingdom
Total launches6
First flight25 May 2020
Last flight9 January 2023
First stage
Diameter1.8 m (5 ft 11 in)
Powered byNewtonThree (N3)
Maximum thrustVacuum: 326.8 kN (73,500 lbf)
Burn timeApprox. 180 seconds
Second stage
Diameter1.5 m (4 ft 11 in)
Powered byNewtonFour (N4)
Maximum thrustVacuum: 22.2 kN (5,000 lbf)
Burn timeApprox. 360 seconds

Challenges and Setbacks

Despite the innovative approach and early successes of Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne, the company faced significant challenges, most notably the failed launch attempt from the United Kingdom. This mission, aimed at establishing the UK as a viable site for satellite launches, ended unsuccessfully due to complications during the flight. This setback was a reminder of the inherent complexities and risks associated with space launch ventures.

The failure of this mission from the UK was not just a technical setback but also a commercial one, impacting Virgin Orbit's standing in the competitive space launch industry. The incident underscores the volatile nature of aerospace endeavors, where high-stakes and high-investment projects can encounter unforeseen difficulties.

Following this failed launch, Virgin Orbit confronted further challenges, leading to questions about the company's future viability. These difficulties highlighted the broader challenges faced by private entities in the space sector, particularly in establishing consistent and reliable launch services.

This context adds a layer of relevance and timeliness to our project. By building a high-power rocketry model of the LauncherOne, we aim to not only acknowledge the technological achievements of Virgin Orbit but also to understand and learn from the complexities and challenges inherent in the field of aerospace engineering and commercial spaceflight. Our project aims to explore and understand the multifaceted story of LauncherOne, from its innovative design and operational capabilities to the challenges and setbacks it encountered. Through this, we intend to gain insights into the dynamic world of aerospace engineering and the realities of commercial spaceflight, acknowledging both the triumphs and trials of this ambitious venture.

Launch Method: LauncherOne was uniquely air-launched from a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft named "Cosmic Girl". This method allowed for more flexible launch locations and trajectories. Length: The rocket was approximately 21 meters (70 feet) long. Payload Capacity: It could carry payloads of up to 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds) to a Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO). For lower inclination orbits, the capacity was slightly higher. Propulsion: Both stages of LauncherOne used liquid rocket engines. The first stage was powered by a single NewtonThree engine, while the second stage utilized a NewtonFour engine. Fuel: The rocket used a combination of liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 (a refined form of kerosene) as propellants. Target Orbits: It was designed primarily for delivering small satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), with a focus on Sun-Synchronous Orbits, making it suitable for a variety of commercial, scientific, and governmental payloads. Development and Operations: Developed by Virgin Orbit, a company within the Virgin Group, LauncherOne aimed to offer a more cost-effective and flexible option for small satellite launches compared to traditional ground-launched rockets.