Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is best known for pioneering private space tourism , but there’s also a smaller spin-off company called Virgin Orbit. Virgin Orbit is focusing on firing satellites into space and charging companies, governments and other organisations for getting them there. But rather than go the SpaceX route of putting them on top of rockets, Virgin is firing them out from underneath the wings of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. The plane, named “Cosmic Girl”, has been adapted to carry Virgin’s LauncherOne rockets up to 35,000 feet before releasing them. From there the rocket’s single engine takes over and it blasts into space.
Once it breaks through our atmosphere, the rocket will separate and deliver payloads up to 300kg into low-Earth orbit. “To me, the Virgin brand is about making life on Earth better, and we are going to fulfill that purpose by accessing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to connect billions of people and enabling valuable applications of data from space through Virgin Orbit’s flexible, affordable, and reliable launch service,” said Dan Hart, the president of Virgin Orbit. Although Virgin Galactic will remain the primary focus of Branson’s space tourism ambitions, the smaller Orbit company could serve as a tidy moneymaker.