Commercial spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has announced it will launch satellites into space from a Boeing 747 aircraft. Earlier this year, the company’s founder Sir Richard Branson announced plans for using a rocket called LauncherOne to create “a new constellation of satellites to make high speed internet and telephony available to billions of people who don’t currently have access.” The project aims to make it easier and less expensive to get small satellites into space by launching them into orbit from mid-air, which requires much less fuel than the traditional method of hitching rides with larger missions that launch from the ground.
Now the company has announced that LauncherOne’s dedicated launch vehicle will be a Boeing 747-400 jet nicknamed “Cosmic Girl,” which has been in service with Branson’s airline Virgin Atlantic since 2001. The LauncherOne rocket will be mounted underneath the left wing of the 747, in a position that is usually reserved for a fifth engine. The rocket will be released in mid-air, where it will orient itself, fire up its engines, and launch into orbit.
The Boeing 747 has a very special place in my heart: we began service on my first airline, Virgin Atlantic, with just one leased 747. I never imagined that today one of our 747s would get a second chance and help open access to space. I’m absolutely thrilled that Cosmic Girl can stay in the Virgin family — and truly live up to her name!