A brief history of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne

2001: The company builds the Cosmic Girl—a modified 747 jet—to send satellites into space, by dropping a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing mid-flight at around 35,000 ft (10,668 m) in a maneuver known as air launch. It is operated by Virgin Group’s commercial airline company Virgin Atlantic, until…


2015: When Branson’s space flight company Virgin Galactic buys it. Then, in…

2017: It is transferred to Virgin Orbit when the company is spun off from Virgin Galactic. The plane is used as the first stage launch platform for the air launch stage of the smallsat orbital launch vehicle, the LauncherOne.


Person of interest: Matthew Brown

Earlier this month, Virgin Orbit was in talks to bag a $200 million capital infusion from private investor Matthew Brown in return for Brown gaining control of the company. This would’ve been the Texas-based investor’s first foray into the space sector. It didn’t pan out, but even if it had, that funding would get Virgin Orbit a year’s runway at most.


Fun fact: Virgin Orbit’s ventilators

During the covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020, Virgin Orbit designed, prototyped, and manufactured bridge ventilators to provide breathing support to patients with moderate symptoms or those who were on the mend. The devices cost around $200-500 versus $20,000-30,000 for the more sophisticated ventilators.


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