Virgin Galactic is taking an ambitious step as it prepares to launch small satellites from a jumbo jet called Cosmic Girl. The newest addition to Virgin Galactic's fleet i.e. Cosmic Girl - a Boeing 747-400 aircraft - was announced on Thursday, Dec. 3. The "mothership" aircraft will be used to launch Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne rocket into space.
Virgin Atlantic airline previously operated the commercial aircraft which was nicknamed Cosmic Girl. The jumbo jet will now act as the airborne launch platform for the LauncherOne.
"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!" said Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) December 3, 2015
The project's primary goal is to send LauncherOne small satellites into the Earth's orbit. Usually, rockets take off vertically from launch pads, however, Virgin Galactic will be tethering it to the 747's wing. The Cosmic Girl would be flying at altitude of 35,000 feet.
For those wondering how Cosmic Girl will launch the rocket - LauncherOne satellites will be sitting beneath the wings of the jumbo jet prior to being deployed as the jet travels at speed of 500 miles per hour. Once airborne, after 10 minutes, the rocket will drop and shoot off into the orbit, hitting the speed 1,700 miles per hour. This will deposit satellites in the process.
Currently, in the burgeoning commercial satellite space, Virgin Galactic has several deals in place to launch satellites that would aid to bring Web access to people.
The intended Cosmic Girl aerial launch platform could potentially be deployed even by NASA in the near future.