Virgin Orbit closed a deal with L3Harris Technologies to modify two Boeing 747-400s, which will operate alongside Cosmic Girl. L3Harris had already performed conversion work on this equipment, which has been providing services for Virgin since 2020.
The first of the new aircraft is scheduled to join the Richard Branson-owned Virgin group company in 2023. This will seek to meet the growing demand for national security satellite launches, mainly driven by NATO.
In addition to modifying the aircraft by fitting the launch system (which is installed on the pylon originally used on the 747 to carry spare engines), L3Harris will be responsible for equipping it with a new cargo configuration. This new main deck design would allow Virgin to allow rockets and support equipment to travel on the aircraft to their destination in foreign countries and then be launched from there.
«Virgin Orbit is at an exciting point in our growth as a company,» said CEO Dan Hart. «We look forward to continuing to expand our fleet, and to do so, we will continue to bet on L3Harris.»
Luke Savoie, president of ISR systems at L3Harris, added, «It’s inspiring to see our expertise put into action on a space launch platform. We are proud to collaborate in doubling Virgin Orbit’s fleet».
Virgin’s 747 is the first commercial use of the «airdrop» concept. The aircraft carries the LauncherOne rocket under its left-wing to an altitude of approximately 12,000 meters. From there, it is released and begins its journey into space.
Cosmic Girl, the only aircraft of its type in service, has completed three commercial launches, successfully placing 26 satellites for multiple customers into orbit. Later this year it is due to make its first orbital launch from Newquay Airport in Cornwall, UK.
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