Space is widely touted to be a huge global market in the coming decade, with firms competing for an ever larger share. Virgin Orbit, the space startup funded by Richard Branson has successfully completed an initial phase of its launch system. The test entailed carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket mounted on a Boeing 747 aircraft.
The rocket was carried to an altitude of about 35,000 feet by the plane and released over a planned drop sight in the Mojave Desert. During an actual launch, the LauncherOne rocket’s own engines would have fired up to carry its payload into orbit. The purpose of carrying a rocket high into the atmosphere lies in the fuel and energy required. Conventional rocket launches carried out from the ground require vast amounts of fuel and thrust, in order to propel the body of the rocket itself along with the payload into space. However, rockets carried to higher altitudes do not require as much fuel or energy, making the whole operation significantly cost-efficient.
Virgin Orbit’s goal is to provide a cheaper option for launching small satellites which weigh up to a couple of hundred kilograms. The company plans to build and launch an actual rocket for a live test later this year.
This decade has seen multiple privately owned rocket companies competing with governments for launch contracts. The new space race has yet another competitor.