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Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne successfully reaches orbit

Capitalism in space: After eight years of development, Virgin Orbit has finally used its LauncherOne air-launched rocket to successfully put ten satellites into orbit.

After an eight month stand down to resolve issues revealed during the first mission of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, the company made their second orbital launch attempt on Sunday, January 17. The air-launched rocket successfully carried ten CubeSats to their target orbit for NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

This makes Virgin Orbit the second smallsat rocket company to achieve orbit, following Rocket Lab. They have beat out a large number of startups, and are now well positioned to gain some of the market share in this new component of the launch market.

They have also made true my September 2016 prediction that Virgin Orbit would complete its first commercial launch before Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital commercial flight, even though Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo began development eight years earlier.

As for the 2021 launch race, right now only SpaceX and Virgin Orbit have launched in 2021. They are tied for the lead, and also combine to put the U.S. ahead 2 to nothing over everyone else.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

4 comments

  • V-Man

    Richard Branson beat Jeff Bezos and joins the orbital club.

    Come on, Blue Origin — with the amount of money you get each year, this is getting really embarrassing.

  • mkent

    This is great news! A full Pegasus payload for 1/3 the Pegasus price. It should make NASA’s Small Explorers much cheaper to launch.

  • Edward

    LauncherOne has a similar capacity to Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, putting them in competition with each other. This should encourage both companies to find new efficiencies and improvements in order to keep or steal customers.

    As mkent noted, NASA chose LauncherOne, not Pegasus, to put up its smallsats, even though Pegasus was available earlier than LauncherOne and less risky. Launch cost is an important factor in space exploration.

  • Mitch S.

    While it doesn’t seem to have helped Pegasus, I wonder if Virgin Orbit’s air launch system will find an advantage due to launch site flexibility.
    This is like the auto industry in 1910. Or perhaps 1920 (vehicles more practical, tech settling into a basic standard (internal combustion engines/liquid fueled rockets).

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