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Virgin Orbit First Space Launch This Weekend

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British businessman Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit plans to launch a demonstration payload into space this weekend, using a rocket launched from under the wing of a Boeing 747.

Long Beach, California-based Virgin Orbit said the window for its launch demo mission starts on Sunday, May 24, and extends through Monday, May 25, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Pacific time, each day.

The aim of the launch demo is to prove out the company's air-launched LauncherOne system, which plans to capitalize on the growing market around the world for small, low-cost satellites. Virgin Orbit is among the several companies that are competing to meet this demand.

LauncherOne is a dedicated launch service for commercial and government-built small satellites. The air-launched rockets will enable Virgin Orbit to operate from locations in different parts of the world in order to best serve each customer's needs.

The carrier aircraft, a former Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 named Cosmic Girl, will take off from Mojave Air and Space Port, fly out over the Pacific Ocean, and release the two-stage, orbital rocket at an altitude of about 35,000 feet.

The LauncherOne will then proceed to ignite its Newton Three engine in mid-air for the first time.

"If LauncherOne reaches an altitude of 50 miles on this mission, it will be the first time this kind of launch system has reached space," Virgin Orbit said in a statement.

Virgin Orbit is a company within the Virgin Group. The satellite-launch business was earlier part of Branson's spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, but was later split into a separate entity.

Virgin Galactic plans to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions.

Recently, the UK Space Agency announced a multi-million dollar grant to Virgin Orbit to facilitate horizontal launches from Spaceport Cornwall.

In April 2019, Virgin Orbit said it would also conduct launches from the Andersen Air Force Base on the Pacific island of Guam. The company is currently working closely with multiple governments and international organizations interested in establishing launch capabilities closer to home.

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