Virgin Orbit conducted the first flight test of the aircraft carrier Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne rocket, fueled with kerosene and liquid nitrogen instead of liquid oxygen. This allowed the specialists to safely fulfill the filling the cooled oxidizer and to study its influence on the behavior of the mounted under the fender flares. The company notesthat such tests will be the last stage before the first launch.
Virgin Orbit creates a system of air launch system to launch small satellites into low earth orbit. It consists of the aircraft carrier Cosmic Girl, created on the basis of Boeing 747-400 and two-stage launch vehicle LauncherOne. Before the start of the rocket suspended on the pylon under the left polacrilin the plane and refuel. Then the plane takes off, rises to a height of prelaunch, and then raised the nose sharply increases a height of 10.5 kilometer and drops the rocket, which after a few seconds, then turn on the engine and the first stage starts out in space.
The company has already conducted flight tests of a rocket in suspended mode, and also conducted a test with a reset, but then the rocket was filled with water and antifreeze. Now Orbit for the first time Virgin spent almost a full simulated run of the aerospace port of Mojave in California.
Under testing experts have tested the filling cooled fuel. For safety instead of liquid oxygen to be used as the oxidant during full runs, they refueled the oxidation tank of liquid nitrogen, which has a close boiling point: -196 degrees Celsius of nitrogen and oxygen at -183.
Another difference from the start is that the plane did not drop the rocket, however, he imitated the reset and immediately thereafter conducted a maneuver leaving from the side “starting” missiles. In addition, specialists checked the telemetry of the missile.
The company now plans to study the data obtained during these tests and also do some more tests before a full flight. Virgin Orbit did not disclose when will the first run, but expects that it will happen a few weeks after testing is fuelled rocket under the condition that all the tests are without deviation.
Virgin Orbit is not the first company that develops a system of air start. For example, long been used the rocket Pegasus XL. She also cleared the aircraft and has similar characteristics in the mass output load: 443 kilograms, compared to about 500 LauncherOne. But in General, air launch is not successful the technology has established itself as a cheap version of the traditional ground launch, despite the fact that theoretically it has advantages. One of them is that the rocket does not have to go through the first 10 kilometers of the atmosphere, where conventional missiles experiencing a high aerodynamic load, which reduces their effectiveness.
Nevertheless, the Virgin group has decided to bet on this way of running, and in two projects. In addition to LauncherOne, Virgin Orbit with another company of the group has created Virgin Galactic spaceplane VSS Unity, which it plans to send tourists on short flights to the boundary between atmosphere and outer space. He also rises into the air on the aircraft carrier, and then continues to fly on its jet engines and in a few minutes begins to plan back for landing. The company has already conducted several flights of the VSS Unity, including with a passenger on Board, but so far the device is only raised to 90 kilometers, according to the generally accepted classification of the International aeronautical Federation (FAI) is not a space.