Cosmic Girl, a Virgin Atlantic 747-400, will have a second life as a rocket launcher carrying satellites into orbit for Virgin Galactic. In 2001, the 747 was one of the final 747s to enter service with the airline prior to the move towards A340 aircraft. Cosmic Girl will carry the satellite and the small rocket, dubbed LauncherOne, under its left wing. After reaching its top altitude, the rocket will detach and fall away from the plane. The rocket’s engine will then ignite to get the rest of the way into space. From the press release:
The 747 is one of the most accomplished and reliable aircraft ever built. It has an established track record of supporting a variety of special missions, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise test flight program, NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft program, the Pratt and Whitney flying testbed, and flight test of the X-45 ‘Phantom Ray.’ The LauncherOne team described additional qualities that make the 747 ideal for the orbital launch platform mission: the aircraft’s large and robust rocket carrying capacity, operational flexibility, long range, ability to operate in many kinds of weather, as well as years of existing 747-400 experience, maintenance, and spare parts supply chains. The carrier aircraft can also be deployed from any runway capable of 747 operations.
Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson: “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!”
The LauncherOne rocket will be mounted to the carrier aircraft under the left wing, adjacent to the position that has been used by other 747s to ferry a fifth engine. Initial inspections and tests of Cosmic Girl have already been completed and, prior to the start of the wing modification, a regularly scheduled maintenance check will be conducted by VT San Antonio Aerospace. A maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) organization, VT San Antonio Aerospace has over the years re-delivered more than 3,000 aircraft.
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