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Virgin Orbit Goes ‘Above the Clouds’ for First Mission of 2022

By Rachel Jewett | January 13, 2022

      Virgin Orbit’s “Above the Clouds” launch on Jan. 13, 2022. Photo: Virgin Orbit

      Thursday was a big day for commercial space launch in the U.S., as Virgin Orbit followed SpaceX’s rideshare mission from Florida in the morning with a launch from California in the afternoon. 

      The mission “Above the Clouds” took off at 1:38 p.m. PST from the Mojave Air and Space Port. In Virgin Orbit’s air-launch method, carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl dropped the LauncherOne rocket. The spacecraft were launched to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) at 500 km circular orbit at 45 degrees inclination, the first time this orbit has been reached from the West Coast. Virgin Orbit confirmed after the launch that all satellites were successfully deployed.

      The primary customer was the U.S. Department of Defense, with several R&D satellites and a university payload sponsored by NASA. The launch was known as STP-27VPB, and was awarded to Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary VOX Space by the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI) Initiative. 

      Virgin Orbit also served repeat customer, Polish company SatRevolution, which was part of its first commercial launch. SatRevolution launched two Earth observation nanosatellites STORK-3 and SteamSat-2 to serve customers in the agricultural sector. 

      Spire Global was a late-load addition to the manifest. The company launched Adler-1, a debris monitoring satellite developed in partnership with the Austrian Space Forum and Findus Venture GmbH. Spire was a customer on both the SpaceX and Virgin Orbit missions on Thursday.  

      “Our customers are starting to hear back from their satellites that are checking in from orbit — and for us, that’s what success looks like. It’s a thrill for our team that this mission included our first repeat customers as well as our first ‘last minute ticket’ customers and reached an orbit that no one had ever reached from the West Coast before, all of which confirms the team’s ability to provide top tier launch service anywhere, anytime,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “On top of that, we flew through weather and a cloud layer that would have grounded any other launch I’ve worked on in my career, something only made possible by air-launch and our incredible team.”