Space force

Virgin Orbit targets June launch window for US Space Force collaboration

pristine orbit will fly seven satellites for the US Space Force starting this week – and took a bit of inspiration from the pop music world to announce it. In a clever marketing move, the company named its mission “Straight Up” after the popular 1988 song by Paula Abdul, linking Virgin Orbit to the origins of the brand as Virgin Records, which released the song.

Straight Up will fly Wednesday at the earliest, from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. Billionaire Richard Branson founded Virgin Orbit in 2017, which began commercial service last year and has so far completed three missions (including an unsuccessful start). Starting Wednesday, Virgin Orbit will aim to fly its LauncherOne rocket with its payloads from the US government agency at night at an altitude of 500km. LauncherOne will be hitchhiking under a modified 747 carrier plane called Cosmic Girl.

Straight Up will support the US Space Force STP-28A mission and carry payloads for the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP). Virgin Orbit has already performed eight DoD Science and Technology demonstrations on two previous flights, according to company officials.

Before LauncherOne takes off, the team will have to deal with the aftermath of a recent thunderstorm. The storm caused runway problems, Virgin Orbit officials said in a press call Tuesday before the start of its launch window.

Virgin Orbit Launch Demo 2 in January 2021. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images

Virgin Orbit officials also said plans for the UK’s first licensed space launch, due to take place in Cornwall, are progressing and they are considering a September timetable for that launch. They said the company had ongoing conversations with the country’s Civil Aviation Authority and the Royal Air Force. Once he completes Straight Up, the business will move on to the Cornwall launch.

The flight comes at a time of heightened tensions in space, CEO Dan Hart said on Tuesday. “Increasingly, we are seeing the importance of space to the security of the United States and allied nations,” he said in a Straight Up announcement. “We are honored and committed to supporting Space Force at this critical time.”