Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit delivered satellites from three countries into space on Wednesday, its second successful rocket launch from a plane. The company’s modified 747 jet, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from California’s Mojave Desert, carrying the 70-foot rocket beneath its left wing. Once the plane was over the Pacific near the Channel Islands, the LauncherOne rocket peeled away, then fired its engine to head to space. The drop occurred at an altitude of about 37,000 feet. Camera views showed the package of seven small satellites on the end of the second stage, against the curve of the blue Earth. The satellites are from the US Defense Department, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and Poland’s SatRevolution company, which is working to set up an Earth-observing constellation.
Virgin Orbit later declared success, saying the satellites were in the proper orbit. Branson—whose Virgin Galactic company is close to launching paying customers to the edge of space—planted a kiss on the cheek of Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart once the satellites reached orbit. "It's a pinch yourself moment," Branson said. "Cheers! Well done, everybody." In an interview later with the AP, Branson declined to say whether he will be on Virgin Galactic’s next test flight to space—or the one after that as originally planned. Virgin Orbit sent its first batch of satellites into orbit in January. Virgin Orbit said its air-launched system can put satellites into orbit on relatively short notice, compared with the more traditional method of launching rockets from the ground.
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